In what has become an annual Washington ritual, lawmakers are squabbling as a partial government shutdown looms. The immediate goal: a stopgap spending bill, or continuing resolution.
“We are talking about passing a CR [continuing resolution] here that takes us to December 9,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “We will reconvene after the election and decide how to deal, finally, with the funding bills for next year.”
Lawmakers fighting for reelection in November have a clear incentive to conclude Congress’ work promptly and return to the campaign trail. Republicans control both houses of Congress and are defending more seats than Democrats.
“We want to get our work done,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “We do not want to have high drama around here at this time.”
Democrats maintain, even if a short-term spending bill passes, there is much Congress has left undone.
“Republicans are like schoolkids begging for an early recess,” said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. “Republicans would rather be out asking for people’s votes than doing the people’s business.”
Closed-door negotiations reportedly have forged an agreement to combat the Zika virus. But differences remain on other thorny topics, like funding to fix one city’s contaminated drinking water.
“This is a highly irresponsible Congress,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “The people that we are fighting for here are invisible to the Republicans, and they are indifferent to their needs.”
But Republicans argue that Democrats are to blame for bottlenecks in passing legislation, having used procedural blocking maneuvers to stymie appropriations and other bills in the Senate.
“The minority has tools they can use at their disposal to tie us up, and that’s what they chose to do,” Ryan said.
For now, no one is panicking.
“I think we are close to finalizing an agreement,” McConnell said last week.
Even if a shutdown is averted, a piecemeal approach to government funding is not without cost to the Pentagon and other federal entities that do multi-year planning.
“Budget instability undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, often in ways taxpayers cannot even see,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a Senate panel last week. “It baffles our friends, and emboldens foes. It is managerially and strategically unsound, and unfairly dispiriting to our troops, their families, and our workforce.”
But stopgap spending is better than none at all. On Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest urged Congress to avoid another shutdown “cliffhanger.”