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Congress Reconvenes, Picks Up on Familiar Funding Fights

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Congress Reconvenes, Picks Up on Familiar Funding Fights

September 27, 2013

As previously reported, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) cancelled its recess, calling members back in session starting September 25, in order to deal with the potential government shutdown that could happen as early as next week, when a continuing resolution (CR) expires. The current CR, which was signed in March, funds the government through October 1. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said that even with "extraordinary measures" taken by the Treasury Department, the government will run out of money by October 17. Prior strategy to pass a new CR has included having the House pass a CR the Senate would approve of, and then follow it with a technical correction that would defund the Affordable Care Act. More recently, both parties were considering a very short-term CR, of a week only, to buy time to work out a larger deal. Last Friday, the House passed a CR that would keep the government funded through mid-December, while defunding the ACA. 

On Thursday, House Republican leaders set forth conditions they insist must be met in order for them to consider raising the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is a limit imposed on the government's ability to borrow money. Raising the limit is necessary for the government to borrow money required to pay obligations that have already been authorized by Congress and incurred. On the list of demands is a delay of ACA implementation by one-year, the authority to fast-track an overhaul of the tax code, construction of the Keystone oil pipeline, various other policy changes that would benefit oil, energy and mining interests, and means testing for Medicare recipients. Boehner has had a difficult time securing votes among House Republicans needed to pass budgetary legislation. Including these demands in any legislation that would raise the debt ceiling and fund the government could be the leverage needed to secure sufficient Republican votes to get it passed. Democrats have slammed the Republicans for this list of demands, saying that it does not bring them closer to a resolution. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that given the very short time frame left any changes the House makes to a CR coming out of the Senate would make a government shutdown inevitable, as there would not be time for the Senate to reconsider a bill. "A clean CR is the only way to meet the deadline," he said. 

On the Senate side Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) drew attention with a 21 hour, 19 minute speech that focused on what he sees as the need to defund the ACA. Cruz' speech was not a filibuster, as it never sought to and did not prevent the Senate from taking up a vote on cloture for whether to consider a House-passed CR. The speech's scope was vast. At times, Cruz read Dr. Seuss, quoted Star Wars and answered questions posed to him from other Republican Senators that had nothing to do with legislation or policy. Cruz occasionally ceded the floor to fellow Republican Senators during his speech. At the end of it, a vote on the CR sent to the Senate from the House on last Friday took place as scheduled, and Cruz joined the rest of the Senate in voting unanimously to consider the bill. The Senate would have to approve the bill, which they are unlikely to do unless language defunding the ACA is taken out. If the Senate amends the bill from the House version, it would be sent back for further consideration. A vote from the Senate is expected Friday. 

Sources: The New York TimesThe Hill