Congressional Leaders Meet as Fiscal Fights Loom Large

Jacquelyn Martin/AP file photo

With big deadlines and political hurdles looming over fights to keep the government funded and hike the nation’s borrowing limit, a meeting Thursday of the top four congressional leaders could set the tone for the autumn.

It will be the first get-together for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., since Congress returned from its summer recess. The closed-door setting for this kickoff meeting will be Boehner’s office at the Capitol.

“In my view, these next six weeks are going to in some ways be a litmus test as to whether America continues to be a great nation that can manage itself rationally and through a democratic process of compromise and agreement,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Tuesday.

Indeed, obstacles to cooperation are already surfacing, and a potential government shutdown and national default may hang in the balance.

A House vote planned for Thursday on a Republican bill to keep the government running beyond Sept. 30, when the current funding mechanism expires, was postponed Wednesday. Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and other GOP leaders determined they did not yet have the votes.

The leaders sought to appease right-wing members of their conference by tying the bill to a quirky procedure that would force the Senate to vote on defunding President Obama’s health care law. But that strategy has stalled.

However, lawmakers must find some way to keep federal offices running, even if only for the short term, to allow time for negotiations on a larger deal that would include raising the debt ceiling before mid-October, when estimates show the Treasury will no longer be able to pay U.S. obligations.

But, so far, congressional compromise and agreement are far from certain. Boehner himself has already promised a “whale of a fight” over raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.

While the White House says President Obama won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling, because the United States must pay its bills, the speaker says Republicans won’t agree to lift the borrowing authority without significant spending cuts and changes to Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, farm programs, and government pensions.

Up to this point, the inability of leaders in both parties to make significant concessions has been a major obstacle, illustrated, for instance, by the fact that neither the House nor the Senate has reached agreement on regular appropriations bills.

Now, House Republicans are having difficulty unifying themselves behind a fiscal strategy, adding another layer of negotiation that may not bode well for talks with Democrats.

The stopgap spending measure that Republicans put forth this week, as officially introduced by Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., was expected to meet resistance from Democrats in both the House and Senate, even without the Affordable Care Act language. That’s because it would continue government spending through Dec. 15 at an annualized rate of $986.3 billion, just under the current level, which includes the sequestration cuts.

By contrast, the Democratic-led Senate has been writing up its spending bills for the next fiscal year with a topline of $1.059 trillion, on the assumption that sequestration would be repealed, which Democrats in both chambers have been seeking. Even without the Obamacare language, Hoyer told reporters that House Democrats would not support the House GOP bill because it maintains the sequester cuts.

And so Boehner, Cantor, and House leaders were left to depend on getting enough votes from their own party, and they determined that was not dependable. The delay could leave Boehner going into the Thursday’s meeting with Reid, McConnell, and Pelosi on less than solid ground.

Hoyer has already advised fellow Democrats not to make any plans for the last full week in September, on the suspicion that lawmakers may be still negotiating how to avert a government shutdown in the final days before Oct. 1.

Exactly how short GOP leaders are in terms of votes is unclear. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a close Boehner ally, said, “Obviously, we’re not where we need to be, or we would have voted on it.”

But perhaps a more ominous sign came from a statement released by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 170 conservatives.

“We must use every legislative avenue,” he said, “through the CR, the debt ceiling, and the sequester conversations to free the country from the president’s train wreck of a health care law.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.