| CONGRESS BACK TO WORK ON SEPTEMBER 8 |
The House and Senate return to Washington on September 8 with a full plate of issues to resolve in addition to finishing up all 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2016. And in the backdrop of these debates, Pope Francis will address Congress on September 24 in an event that's likely to feature crowds and fanfare similar to a presidential inauguration.
Here's what to expect from Congress in the fall:
FY 2016 Appropriations
Lawmakers will need to pass the remaining spending bills or a continuing resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month. The FY 2016 appropriations process was already doomed because Senate Democrats have vowed to block consideration of any FY 2016 appropriations measure that adheres to the current discretionary spending caps. President Obama has indicated he would veto any such bill that made it to his desk. Democrats argue that the appropriations bills evade the caps by including almost $40 billion in war funding beyond what Obama requested to supplement the base defense budget – but without providing additional funds to domestic programs.
Two controversial issues continue to complicate the process and make a government shutdown a stronger possibility. Two individual 2016 appropriations bills for the Interior Department and financial services and general government programs were removed from the Congressional schedule in July due to controversy over the display of the Confederate flag. Additionally, senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX) is ready to shut down the government to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood and he's not alone. Eighteen House Republicans wrote leadership to say they won't support any spending bill, including a CR, which includes money for the group. And conservatives like Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said they would consider supporting a spending rider to must-pass legislation that would eliminate Planned Parenthood's funding.
Budget Reconciliation to Repeal the Affordable Care Act
Republican leaders are considering an abbreviated form of the powerful budget reconciliation process this year giving them the leeway to focus on other pressing matters while still issuing a prod to the president on the health care law. Under the approach being discussed, the Senate would act on a House-written reconciliation bill to overturn the health care law rather than going through the laborious steps it would take to write and debate its own measure. Reconciliation allows budget-related legislation to pass in the Senate with a simple majority. Even though President Obama is almost sure to veto any repeal, many Republicans remain committed to sending a repeal to his desk and putting him on the record. Repeal remains particularly important to many in the conservative Republican base.
Raising the Debt-Limit and Other Pressing Issues
Congress will have until at least the end of October to deal with how to raise the debt limit. Treasury secretary Jack Lew has said Congress will need to raise the nation's borrowing limit to avoid default. Additionally, Congress will need to deal with the Iran nuclear deal and the expiration of highway trust funds among others upon returning from the August recess period.
The next edition of the Capitol Connection will be published on October 13, 2015.
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