Senate moves on CR as agencies plan for possible shutdown

With only one week left until the deadline to pass a fiscal 2017 budget, agencies are hoping to avoid a shutdown, but planning for one just in case.

The Senate will hold a cloture vote on Sept. 26 on a House bill that will be used as the legislative vehicle for a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 9.  A final passage vote has not been scheduled, according to a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The bill, H.R. 5325, is the appropriations bill for the legislative branch, which the House passed in June.

The Senate was originally supposed to vote on Sept. 19, but it was postponed to give lawmakers more time to negotiate some of the finer points.

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The Senate Appropriations Committee released  the CR on Sept. 22.

“This continuing resolution will maintain government operations while we work toward completing the FY2017 appropriations process.  It will ensure stability for our men and women in uniform, continue important security and law enforcement programs, and respond to pressing issues such as Zika and disaster recovery.  I encourage its adoption,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) in a press release.

It’s unclear what the House’s plans are. An email to the House Appropriations Committee seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Budget Committee, told Federal News Radio that House lawmakers have been in communications with the Senate and provided some input, but the upper chamber is driving the process.

“We are hoping the Senate can reach an agreement so it can come to the House,” Van Hollen said. “I am always concerned about a shutdown when dealing with people like Sen. [Ted] Cruz (R-Texas) who has been trying to insert governance of internet in the spending bill. Given the past history,  I worry about a shutdown, but I believe cooler heads will prevail at least right now and we will avert a shutdown, but you never know.”

Congress has seven days to pass a spending bill before the government shuts down, which means that, as per Circular A-11, the Office of Management and Budget is required to start having conversations with agency leaders about how to implement shutdown plans.

“One week prior to the expiration of appropriations bills, regardless of whether the enactment of appropriations appears imminent, OMB will convene a meeting or teleconference with agency senior officials to remind agencies of their responsibilities to review and update orderly shutdown plans,” the circular reads. “OMB will hold follow-up meetings or teleconferences on a periodic basis until such time as appropriations are enacted or a lapse in appropriations has occurred.”

OMB is hoping a shutdown will not occur, but is nevertheless planning for the possibility.

“The administration strongly believes that a lapse in appropriations should not occur,” said an OMB spokesperson via email. “There is enough time for Congress to prevent a lapse in appropriations by passing a short-term continuing resolution that is free of ideological riders and allow more time to complete work on full-year appropriations in order to minimize the negative impacts of requiring Federal agencies to operate under stop-gap funding. However, at this time, prudent management requires that the government plan for the possibility of a lapse and OMB is working with agencies to take appropriate action. It is our hope that this work will ultimately be unnecessary and that there will be no lapse in appropriations.”

An OMB official did say that a planning call between OMB and agency leaders would be occurring Sept. 23.

OMB Director Shaun Donovan said earlier this month that he was “disappointed” to see Congress fall to the same gridlock that it did last year.

Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) attempted to rally lawmakers to oppose the resolution because, while providing flood assistance to Louisiana, it provides no aid to Flint, Michigan to deal with their water crisis.

“I want to be clear, we do want to help the people of Louisiana, but we do also want to help the people of Flint,” Mikulski said on the Senate floor. “The other side of the aisle says Flint can be handled two months from now on a bill called WRDA – the Water Resources Development Act – but the House has made no commitment to help Flint in that bill.”

The resolution also includes the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill, which provides $82.3 billion in discretionary funding for fiscal 2017, up $2.5 billion from 2016.

It also includes $176.9 billion in total funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $14.2 billion more than 2016. Out of that, $74.4 billion is discretionary funding, 4 percent more than 2016, while $260 million is earmarked for continued modernization of VA’s electronic health record system. That extra funding requires that the agency be able to demonstrate interoperability of the system with the Defense Department and the private sector.

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