Hours ahead of a midnight deadline, Congress moved to avert a second federal-government shutdown in two years, as both the Senate and House of Representatives were expected on Wednesday to pass legislation that keeps the government funded through December 11.
The Senate voted 78-20 Wednesday morning to keep the government funded. The legislation now heads to the House, which is set to pass it later in the day.
House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) surprise announcement of his impending resignation last week got the wheels in motion toward avoiding another shutdown — something he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) had promised heading into the year.
But the short-term aversion of a shutdown could lead to another messy situation in Congress come December, analysts say, when Congress would be looking at another potential shutdown. It also needs to raise the nation’s debt ceiling sometime this fall, and the deadlines could come up against one another — much as they did in 2013, when the federal government shut down for 17 days.
It will make for a complicated end of the year for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), who is expected to be the next speaker when Boehner leaves his post at the end of October.
“Can Kevin McCarthy avoid a mid-December budget train wreck? Chances of a crisis have risen, since the probable new House Speaker may be less likely than John Boehner to seek votes from Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats,” said Greg Valliere, the chief political strategist at the Potomac Research Group. “McCarthy will take a harder line against compromising on spending; rigid domestic outlay caps may be maintained.”
When Boehner announced his resignation last week, multiple Republican and Democratic congressional aides were already looking ahead to December’s funding battle. Republicans and Democrats look set to again bicker over whether the government should fund Planned Parenthood — as well as over military and domestic spending.
President Barack Obama and Democrats want to increase spending beyond the agreed-upon caps of the 2011 budget sequester, while most Republicans want to lift only military spending while making further cuts on the domestic side. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said Obama will not support legislation that “locks in those sequester caps that neglect our economic and national-security priorities.”
McConnell said Tuesday that he and Boehner will “soon” enter budget talks with Obama. And Boehner hasn’t shut the door on passing a host of contentious items, like a debt-ceiling increase, before he leaves. But analysts expect that to be easier said than done.
“Boehner and his allies will do their best over October to educate and remind the hardcore members of the House GOP that Pickett’s Charge failed, though we fully expect shutdown and debt ceiling brinkmanship to return in November and December,” said Chris Krueger, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities in Washington.
“Despite headlines about an Obama-Boehner-McConnell fiscal kumbaya, we just don’t see it.”
Then there’s the debt ceiling, a recurring fight during which Republicans consistently demand concessions from the White House and Democrats in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing limit. Boehner, while pushing that limit to the brink several times, stayed true to public statements and never allowed a debt-ceiling breach.
The US has hit its debt limit — the Treasury Department is using typical “extraordinary measures” to continue paying the nation’s bills. The Congressional Budget Office has said the so-called X date — the date at which the debt ceiling will have to be raised or the country will begin defaulting on its obligations — will come sometime between mid-November and mid-December.
Krueger said there’s a one-in-four chance of some kind of “accident” in which the US accidentally breaches that ceiling.
“Almost by definition, Boehner’s ouster would be the cause of tea-party-aligned lawmakers who would either elect one of their own as speaker or command a much greater control over the legislative agenda,” Krueger said. “With the ‘Boehner put’ in place, there is little risk of the US passing the debt ceiling X date or other economically destructive policies.
“Without Boehner, all bets are off.”
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