Government affairs

Legislative Updates

Congress temporarily avoids shutdown; rocky road ahead

Last week, Congress averted an anticipated shutdown of the federal government by passing H.R. 719, the Continuing Appropriations for FY 2016 Act, a continuing resolution (CR) that funds the first 10 weeks of FY 2016 and expires on Dec. 11. The measure cleared the House 277-151 and passed the Senate 78-20. President Obama then signed the bill just hours before the fiscal 2015 midnight deadline.

The bill continues the cap on discretionary spending levels, per the sequester that remains in place as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which seeks $1.2 trillion in reduced spending through 2021.

While there was much discussion about the potential of a shutdown in the weeks leading up to debate this week, in the end, Congress opted for a low-profile passage of a CR with very few fireworks—except for dissenting votes from conservative members who wanted funding for Planned Parenthood stripped from the spending measure.

Looking ahead, lawmakers are expected to have a rocky road to Dec. 11. Over the next 10 weeks, it must agree on future government spending, including how it will handle Planned Parenthood. Democrats continue to insist on lifting sequester caps, while Republicans want to keep them in place, except for defense spending. Additional complications are expected as Congress must raise the statutory debt ceiling to fund past spending decisions, approve highway funding, extend tax breaks that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

A complicating factor to resolving these budget issues is a pending change in the GOP House leadership.  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) surprised many last week by announcing his resignation effective Oct. 29. His announcement comes a couple of months after members of the House Freedom Caucus threatened to seek a vote on removing him from his position.

Elections for his position and for other potential leadership openings will occur on Oct. 8. Currently, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) appears to be the front-runner. But Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee (OGR), threw his hat into the ring for House speaker over the weekend.

If Chaffetz were to win, he would have to give up his chairmanship of the OGR committee, which has jurisdiction over the Postal Service and postal reform legislation. If Chaffetz were to lose, his relationship with the next speaker could be compromised.  No matter what happens, the results could have profound effects on letter carriers and the Postal Service.

Given the continued acrimony on Capitol Hill, it is expected to be an interesting fall.

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