Congress is leaning toward 'punting' on its huge deadlines, but it doesn't mean they 'can get through the month drama-free'

Paul ryan mitch mcconnellMatt Rourke/AP ImagesHouse Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
  • Congress faces a slew of deadlines in September, most notably a need to pass bills funding the government and raising the debt ceiling.
  • While there is considerable uncertainty, many analysts expect Congress to “punt” on fights regarding the deadlines for now.
  • But that doesn’t mean it will be “drama free,” analysts say.

Congress is facing a brutal September, but according to many analysts, it looks like lawmakers may kick the can down the road a little longer.

As the legislature returns from a month-long August recess, it faces down the needs to pass a bill to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling, and reauthorize a slew of government programs.

But policy experts and political analysts say the most likely outcome for this crushing deadline push is a series of short-term bills that will in essence “punt” many of the bigger policy fights to later dates.

The Morgan Stanley public policy research and economic team said in a note Tuesday that the short timeframe to secure deals and the thorny nature of the issues on the table would likely lead to Congress deferring many of them to a later date.

“With only 12 legislative days in September, we expect Congress will pass a temporary measure and push off political debates until the end of the year,” Morgan Stanley’s public policy research team wrote in the note Tuesday. “While the president and some members of Congress had angled for a shutdown over border wall funding, Republican congressional leadership has stated repeatedly that they did not want a shutdown and absolutely would raise the debt ceiling.”

Brian Gardner, managing editor of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in Washington, said the political optics of engaging in partisan fighting following a disaster like Hurricane Harvey would also help Congress to pass the necessary legislation.

“In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we think Congress will avoid being seen as petty and dysfunctional so, in addition to passing disaster relief for the area affected by the hurricane, we expect Congress will pass a short-term spending bill (a continuing resolution or CR) that lasts into December,” Gardner wrote Tuesday. “That is when a real fight over government spending could occur and when we think chances of a government shutdown will become more realistic.”

Republican congressional leaders do not appear to have the appetite for a showdown in September.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has already said it would be impossible for the Senate and House to get a full budget for fiscal year 2018 together before the shutdown deadline at the end of September. That means Congress would need to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government for a few months to finish the full budget process.

Many of the thorniest budget issues could also be left out of the short-term CR. For instance, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border would be addressed in December, when the CR would likely run out again.

“We have to deal with Harvey, we have the debt ceiling, we have a continuing resolution, which will be just about a three month continuing resolution,” told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo in an interview. “So you will deal with the wall a little later in the year.”

Meanwhile, both Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have repeatedly insisted that the debt ceiling will be increased by an end-of-September deadline.

Whether rank and file Republicans will go along with the leadership’s desire, however, is another question. Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus will likely oppose any measure to attach Harvey relief to a debt-ceiling increase and could vote against a CR if it does not include serious spending reforms.

On the other hand, a clean raise tied to Harvey relief or a simple CR could garner the support of a large number of Democrats, giving GOP leadership the ability to pass legislation without their more right-leaning flank.

Even if there is broad, possibly bipartisan support for some of these solutions, there is no guarantee it all goes off without a hitch.

“While a two-month CR seems more likely than not, we urge caution on assuming that this Congress and this Administration can get through the month drama-free,” Chris Krueger, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group, wrote in a note Tuesday. “The odds of an October shutdown have gone down at the detriment of a December shutdown, but we are still a long way until October 1 and clarity on the debt ceiling.”

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