Fasten Your Seat Belts: It’s Going To Be A Very Bumpy Rest Of The Year In Washington

In the midst of all of the tweet storms, special counsel and criminal investigations, deep state conspiracy paranoias, off and on summits, tariffs imposed on our allies and multiple pardons, it’s easy to forget that Congress and the White House still have routine legislative responsibilities — like appropriations — that will need to be completed over the next few months.

These legislative responsibilities could include the most contentious domestic issues the Republican-controlled Congress and Trump administration will have to deal with all year such as Planned Parenthood, immigration, a wall between the United States and Mexico and multiple highly contentious domestic spending cuts.

Each one’s political significance will be greatly magnified by the very narrow GOP Senate majority, the hyper-partisanship, a lame duck speaker, almost 50 GOP retirements in the House, an abandoned budget process, a very unpredictable president and an extremely high stakes congressional election that’s only five months away.

In other words…To paraphrase Betty Davis in “All About Eve,” Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy rest of 2018 in Washington.

According to Congress.gov, as of today, none of the 12 funding bills for fiscal 2019 have passed Congress.

It’s not unusual for no appropriations to be approved by now. But there’s usually more time between June and when the fiscal year begins on October 1 for Congress to do what needs to be done than there will be this year.

If the published schedules aren’t changed, the House now only plans to be in session for 35 more days before fiscal 2019 begins; the Senate only expects to be in session for 51 days, although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated last week that some or all of the Senate’s August recess will be cancelled.

But 35, 51 or some other number very likely overstates the actual amount of time that will be available for legislative work given Congress’s tendency not to take many votes on Mondays and Fridays.

This very limited about of time would be problematic in a good year if House and Senate Republicans were working together, the House Freedom Caucus wasn’t making Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) final days as speaker miserable as it did on the recent agriculture bill and the president wasn’t demanding funds for a wall that Congress has refused to provide multiple times.

But with all of these things happening, the very limited amount of time that’s left makes “problematic” into the best-case scenario this year.

It also makes yet another continuing resolution – which in recent years has become the unfortunate but very standard operating procedure on Capitol Hill — an almost sure bet to be needed to prevent a government shutdown just before the election.

And because CRs can be filibustered, that will give Senate Democrats influence over a short-term funding bill that, with their changes, isn’t likely to be acceptable to the House Freedom Caucus or the White House.

In theory, Trump should want to do what Ryan and McConnell want: put a CR in place as early as possible so Congress can recess quickly and GOP incumbents running for reelection have as much time as possible to defend their seats.

In fact, Ryan and McConnell should be seriously considering doing a continuing resolution before the start of the August-Labor Day recess that will keep the government operating through the lame duck session so Congress can stay home in September as well.

But Trump is more likely to view his own congressional leadership’s strong desire to recess before the election as something that gives him leverage to get his wall rather than as a way to make continuing GOP House and Senate majorities more certain.

Add to that the extreme displeasure from conservative commentators after he signed the 2018 omnibus appropriation in March and the fact that healthcare and immigration are hot button issues for the White House, congressional Republicans and Democrats, having a CR in place in time to prevent a government shutdown has to be considered anything but certain.

But even if a continuing resolution is enacted by October 1, the road to get there will be anything but smooth. It is likely to set the new bar for bumpy rides in Washington.

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