Government affairs

Legislative Updates

House and Senate adjourn for August recess

On Wednesday, the Senate adjourned for its August recess after spending the beginning of the week in a battle over defunding Planned Parenthood. While that effort was ultimately defeated, it demonstrates the deep divisions that remain in Congress over social and economic issues, divisions that are likely to resurface this fall when Congress returns to tackle pressing issues in September.

In the House, lawmakers broke for recess last Wednesday following a July session that was also dominated by deep divisions. After weeks of debate over highway funding, House lawmakers ultimately passed a three-month short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund until Oct. 18, recognizing that it could not pass a longer-term authorization.

On the appropriations front, the House was on target to pass nearly all of its Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 appropriations bills—until controversy over the Confederate flag stymied consideration of the remaining bills, including the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) and the Interior spending bills.

The House session concluded with a last-minute effort from Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC), who filed a motion to remove Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House.

Aside from dealing with political divisions when it returns on Sept. 8, Congress will have numerous legislative matters on its plate, including a mid-September deadline on the Iran deal, passing by Sept. 30 a bill to fund the federal government to avoid a shutdown, and negotiations over how to raise the nation’s debt limit. In addition, Congress will host Pope Francis on Sept. 24, an event that will temporarily freeze action on Capitol Hill.

The most pressing issue Congress will have to address when it returns will be the issue of funding the government. In response to GOP proposals to exceed budget (sequestration) caps on defense spending, Senate Democrats are insisting on lifting budget caps for non-defense spending and have vowed to block Senate floor action until the caps are lifted.

With all of the energy this week around Planned Parenthood and the Senate’s failure to advance a bill to defund it, Senate Republicans, including presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), have vowed to shut down the federal government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded—setting the stage for difficult negotiations between Republicans and Democrats this fall.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has previously pledged that there will be no more government shutdowns, but he recognized the impending showdown between the administration and congressional Republicans who are set to begin budget talks.

“We have divided government,” McConnell said. “Different parties control the Congress and control the White House, and at some point we’ll negotiate the way forward.”

Already being discussed is the option of a short-term extension of government funding to avoid a shutdown; however, those negotiations have not begun and continuing resolutions (or CRs) are typically a magnet for ideological riders, which will pose problems.

“There is no such thing as a clean [continuing resolution] in the minds of the Republicans,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. “They have to stick something on it. When I say ‘something,’ it’ll be a lot of stuff.”

In any event, the House and Senate must negotiate a way forward.

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