After negotiations in the House to secure a commitment to provide aid for the Flint water crisis, the Senate seems to have reached a consensus on the continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 9.
“We have a path forward to getting our work done, and if we keep working together, we will,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The Senate will hold a third cloture vote on the CR at 2 p.m., which would end debate on the CR and allow lawmakers to move ahead to a passage vote.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told members to expect a vote on a “clean” continuing resolution around noon Wednesday morning.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, McConnell confirmed reports of an agreement reached in the House earlier today to pass a “clean” CR that would keep the federal government running until December.
The deal would move a provision for $170 million in funding to Flint, Michigan to a water projects bill, the Water Resources Development Act, instead of the continuing resolution bill.
McConnell said the continuing resolution vote would take place after a vote to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in court.
“After this vote, members should be prepared for votes on the continuing resolution. Our colleagues in the House made good progress last night on a way forward to help the people of Flint in the Water Resources Development Act, which as we’ve said, is the proper vehicle,” McConnell said.
The Senate failed to clear a key hurdle in the process to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 9.
The Senate twice failed to approve a cloture vote on Sept. 27 to stop debate on the short-term continuing resolution attached to a House bill which lawmakers are using as the legislative vehicle to fund the government and avert a government shutdown. The vote would have officially ended debate on the continuing resolution, allowing a final passage vote on the bill.
The first vote failed, 45-55. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved to reconsider, but the second vote also was unsuccessful as well, 40-59. The vote required a majority of 60 lawmakers to end the debate.
McConnell again moved to reconsider, promising to say more on the subject later, then left for a security briefing.
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 of the legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee released the CR on Sept. 22.
It’s unclear what the House’s plans are should the Senate pass the bill. An email to the House Appropriations Committee seeking comment was not immediately returned.
The White House said on Sept. 23 that President Barack Obama may not sign the bill, depending on the provisions included, according to the Associated Press. Obama joined Senate Democrats in expressing disappointment over the lack of funding for the Flint, Michigan water crisis.
The Office of Management and Budget is hoping Congress will pass the continuing resolution before the Sept. 30 deadline.
“The administration strongly believes that a lapse in appropriations should not occur,” said an OMB spokesperson via email Sept. 23. “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 said OMB and agency leaders discussed a potential shutdown during a call on Sept. 23.
Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) attempted to rally lawmakers on Sept 23 to oppose the resolution because, while providing flood assistance to Louisiana, it provides no aid to Flint, Michigan to deal with their water crisis. She reiterated her position on the Senate floor on Sept. 27.
“Democrats are ready to pass a CR, but that CR should do four things,” she said. “First, it should keep the government open through Dec. 9, giving Congress time to complete the appropriations process. Second, it should respond to urgent needs by including funding to address the Zika virus, floods in Louisiana and other states, and the Flint water crisis. Third, it should be free of poison pill riders, like the rider preventing the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from requiring companies to tell investors where their political contributions are going. Fourth, it should provide full-year funding for veterans and military construction, including an increase of $3.5 billion for veterans medical care.”
McConnell spent his time on the floor urging a passage vote, accusing Democrats of prioritizing politics over the budget, Zika funding and flood assistance.
“The clean [continuing resolution and] Zika package before us is fair,” McConnell said. “It’s the result of weeks of bipartisan negotiations. It does the very things members of both parties, and more importantly our constituents, have been calling for. We cannot afford to delay any longer.”
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.
In addition, it includes $176.9 billion in total funding for the Veterans Affairs Department, $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.
Another government shutdown would threaten the moral of federal employees in the wake of a Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey that showed an upswing in employee engagement.
After the government shutdown in 2013, 88 percent of federal employees who responded to a Federal News Radio online poll said morale was lower than before.
The shutdown created a rift between employees who were furloughed, and those who still had to report to work during the shutdown. Furloughed employees were labeled as “nonessential,” although that word was never officially used in any guidance from the Office of Personnel Management.
Guidance uses the words “excepted” from furloughs and “nonexcepted.”
Meanwhile, employees forced to appear for work during the shutdown were initially grateful that they would not suffer any interruptions in pay. However, after Congress passed a stopgap measure that included retroactive pay for furloughed employees, those nonexcepted personnel felt slighted.
OMB released a report on Nov. 7, 2013, putting a more quantifiable cost on the shutdown.
Furloughed federal employees lost a total of 6.6 million days of work over the 16 day shutdown. More than 850,000 employees were furloughed at one point.
The financial cost of the shutdown is estimated to have run into the billions. Just paying employees who were unable to work during the shutdown cost about $2 billion.
The shutdown resulted in 120,000 fewer private sector jobs in the month of October due to halting of regulatory reviews, licensing, applications, loans, travel to National Parks and Social Security number verifications.
Government services such as tax refunds, clinical trials, and health and safety inspections were delayed or canceled.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday that if Congress fails to pass a continuing resolution this week, there’s been no talk of the President signing a two-or-three-day budget extension.
“The President certainly is not interested in seeing the government funding lapse, but this is not an executive branch responsibility. This is a legislative branch responsibility,” Earnest said. “It is the responsibility of House and Senate Republican leaders to pass a bipartisan budget bill that arrives on the President’s desk in time for him to sign it before funding runs out on Sept. 30th.”