Budget deal faces one last hurdle
All the sighs of relief that followed last week's deal to keep the government open will do little to alter the reality that once again lawmakers have to act before a deadline -- on Thursday -- to avert a government shutdown this week.
The hand-shake deal cut Friday night to fund the government through October is expected to clear both chambers, before the "bridge" continuing resolution, passed late Friday to provide time for the passage of the six-month bill, expires. But there are no guarantees.
There are enough House conservatives poised to oppose the deal to cause House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, at least some discomfort. A vote is scheduled for Wednesday. In the Senate, backing from the leadership of both parties leaves little question the measure will have enough votes, but time could become an issue if any member chooses to object and delay action.
Congress is scheduled to begin a two-week spring recess after members complete their work this week; lawmakers expect to head home Thursday night.
Details of the compromise measure will be published on Monday, Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Sunday.
But those specifics had not been finalized Sunday afternoon, leaving most lawmakers and the public with only a general picture of the deal's content.
"They're still sifting through the areas where they are going to make cuts," House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said on ABC's This Week. "You can't find anybody today, actually, who knows exactly what cuts we're proposing until probably the end of the day today."
Lawmakers have said the bill will cut $38.5 billion in spending from current levels-though Senate Democrats have suggested the figure is below $38 billion. That includes $3 billion in reductions to the Defense Department. There are $17.8 billion in reductions in mandatory spending, according to Senate Democratic leadership aides. Altogether, it amounts to $78 billion in cuts from President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget proposal.
Congress will work to wrap up that fight right as it leaps into another heated debate over longer-term deficit reduction.
The House is expected to start floor action this week on a fiscal 2012 budget plan offered by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. At the same time, Obama is set to outline his own plan for deficit reduction, White House adviser David Plouffe said Sunday.
Following the scheduled Wednesday vote on the fiscal 2011 six-month bill, House leaders have scheduled initial floor debate on Ryan's fiscal 2012 budget, with a vote on passage by Friday. This will shift the focus in the ongoing spending battle to next year's budget.
Congressional attention is also turning to a fight over raising the nation's debt limit, with votes expected in May. That vote is sure to be linked to efforts to hold down spending. Republicans, and some Democrats, are expected to try to attach spending-cut measures, such as a balanced budget amendment backed by all Senate Republicans, to debt ceiling legislation.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on "Fox News Sunday" that Republicans will not support raising the nation's debt ceiling without "guaranteed steps being put into place to ensure spending doesn't get out of control again."
But before they do that, lawmakers must first pass the compromise agreed to on Friday.
In the House, conservative discontent with that six-month spending deal could require the support of some House Democrats to get to the 218 votes needed to pass the bill. But it is not clear GOP leadership will lose a major chunk of their Conference. Only 28 of the 241 House Republican members voted against the six-day bridge bill early on Saturday morning.
Vocal conservative opposition to the measure looks more likely to be a political problem for Boehner, rather than a threat to passage.
"I share the disappointment of my colleagues," said House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, on CNN's State of the Union.
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said Sunday he would oppose the bill, despite praising Boehner. And tea party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., ripped the measure as "a disappointment for me and millions of Americans who expected $100 billion in cuts, who wanted to make sure their tax dollars stopped flowing to the nation's largest abortion provider, and who wanted us to defund 'Obamacare.' "
Over the weekend, one national tea party group, the Tea Party Patriots, characterized the deal in an e-mail sent out to supporters as a "Hollow Victory," with inadequate cuts.
In the Senate, the support of Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., means the majority of both parties will likely back the six-month bill. But opposition could come from both liberals and conservatives.
Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; and James Risch, R-Idaho, are potential "no" votes. In a voice-vote early Saturday on approval of the six-day "bridge" bill, Risch, who expressed support for policy riders excluded from the six-month-bill, shouted a "no" vote, the only lawmaker to do so.
Timing, not votes, will be the challenge in the Senate. Assuming the Senate acts after the House, the chamber will have little more than a day to pass the measure. That leaves no time for the cloture process, meaning the chamber will need consent from all 100 lawmakers to schedule the vote. Pressure from Reid and McConnell, along with the lure of the debt-ceiling and fiscal 2012 budget fights, makes a filibuster that causes the Senate to miss the deadline unlikely. But last-minute haggling is possible.
The Senate is expected to vote this week on a bill to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and a proposal to block funding for implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Democratic negotiators agreed to those votes in exchange for Republicans dropping their demand for inclusion of the Planned Parenthood language or related policy riders in the fiscal 2011 deal.
The votes have political but not legislative import. Both measures up for votes have previously passed the House, but lack support to reach 60-vote thresholds established as part of the deal in the Senate.