Architect of the Capitol

Congress Moves Halfway to Averting a Shutdown

The Senate easily approved a short-term spending bill, and the House is set to follow suit.

Con­gress moved halfway to­ward avert­ing a mid­night shut­down, as the Sen­ate on Wed­nes­day morn­ing eas­ily passed a tem­por­ary spend­ing bill fund­ing the gov­ern­ment through Decem­ber 11.

The stop­gap meas­ure passed 78 to 20 and will be sent over the House, where it is ex­pec­ted to pass des­pite the op­pos­i­tion of dozens of con­ser­vat­ives with ob­jec­tions to any pack­age that con­tin­ues to fund Planned Par­ent­hood. Videos re­leased by a pro-life group charge that the or­gan­iz­a­tion is il­leg­ally selling fetal tis­sue for a profit; the or­gan­iz­a­tion vig­or­ously denies the al­leg­a­tions.

Neither Demo­crats nor Re­pub­lic­ans were thrilled about the shut­down show­down and both sides poin­ted fin­gers at the oth­er for bring­ing the coun­try to the brink. But there is some hope that the two sides can come to an agree­ment in the next few months for a longer budget deal clear­ing the decks for the next pres­id­ent.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell said Tues­day that he spoke with Pres­id­ent Obama and House Speak­er John Boehner last week about “get­ting star­ted” with ne­go­ti­ations for a two-year budget so the Re­pub­lic­an-led Con­gress can have a reg­u­lar ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess next year. Sen­ate Demo­crats have blocked ap­pro­pri­ations bills this year over op­pos­i­tion that the spend­ing levels laid out in 2011 are too low, es­pe­cially for do­mest­ic pro­grams. “We are in­ev­it­ably go­ing to end up in a ne­go­ti­ation that will crack the Budget Con­trol Act once again,” said Mc­Con­nell a few weeks ago.

The ne­go­ti­ations could be boos­ted by Boehner, who will have noth­ing left to lose after an­noun­cing last week that he will re­tire on Oc­to­ber 30. On Face the Na­tion Sunday, Boehner said he “might have a little more co­oper­a­tion from some around town to try to get as much fin­ished as pos­sible.”

“I don’t want to leave my suc­cessor a dirty barn,” he ad­ded.

Mem­bers are already turn­ing their eyes to Decem­ber when the Sen­ate hopes to pass ap­pro­pri­ations bills based on a spend­ing deal with the White House. But House con­ser­vat­ives, em­boldened by Boehner’s resig­na­tion, may be even more dif­fi­cult to cor­ral on a deal that will al­most cer­tainly raise spend­ing levels above se­quest­ra­tion caps for both de­fense and non-de­fense spend­ing.

Sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors fol­low­ing the vote on Wed­nes­day said they were already wor­ry­ing about the Christ­mas hol­i­days and wheth­er they’ll be able to leave Wash­ing­ton to vis­it their fam­il­ies and avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down. One Re­pub­lic­an ap­pro­pri­at­or em­phas­ized that the com­mit­tee needs to get star­ted on fund­ing plans for Decem­ber “to­night.”

Asked about the pro­gnos­is for Decem­ber spend­ing bills after Boehner’s de­par­ture, Sen. John Mc­Cain said: “I think it could be ugli­er be­cause I think we could come closer to a gov­ern­ment shut­down.”

But Mc­Cain ad­ded that he and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans in the Sen­ate’s old guard have already be­gun to reach out to House mem­bers ur­ging unity. Their mes­sage: “Isn’t it bet­ter for us to at least try to come to­geth­er than at­tack­ing each oth­er all the time? What are we gain­ing from this?”

Sen. John Thune ac­know­ledged the dif­fi­culty of passing spend­ing bills again this Decem­ber, giv­en the frac­tious state of re­la­tions between the House and Sen­ate. But, he ad­ded, the lead­er­ship teams aren’t chan­ging much and he’s hope­ful that Re­pub­lic­ans in both cham­bers will get a good deal for the party that can pass.