As disclosure for this blog post: I have known, supported and learned a lot from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) since the late 1980’s. He is emphatically one of the most astute and cunning politicians of the modern era. He’s been re-elected five times in Kentucky, a Commonwealth where the number of registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. This last election cycle (2014) McConnell carried 110 of 120 counties.
Congress returns from its August district work period and there remains a long list of unfinished items to resolve including, National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Iranian Nuclear deal, long term Highway legislation, extending tax breaks, extending the charter of the Export-Import Bank, raising the nation’s borrowing authority and finishing all 12 of the FY 2016 annual spending bills. Moreover, all these big ticket legislative items are on the agenda amidst a highly contested presidential election that is in full swing.
With the end of the federal fiscal year (September 30) only 22 days away, timing will be the first major hurdle for lawmakers. The House has only scheduled twelve legislative days between now and the end of the month. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has vowed that Republicans will follow through on their commitment to U.S. voters who gave them a majority (albeit slight) and govern without a shutdown of the federal government. To resolve the timing challenge, it is anticipated that Congress will pass a continuing resolution (CR) funding all federal agencies for an unspecified time past the September 30 deadline.
With a CR in place, the outcome of unfinished items such as NDAA, tax extenders and long term highway funding will likely hinge on the results of the forthcoming budget negotiations between the White House and congressional Republicans late in the fall (federal highway funding is extended until October 29). McConnell, in a recent interview with WYMT-TV in Hazard, Kentucky (video) forecast the coming federal budget negotiations.
However, the budget negotiations will also be impacted by the need to increase the U.S. borrowing authority so the U.S. can meet its financial obligations. Typically, Republicans use this debate to highlight the nation’s burgeoning debt to extract dollar-for-dollar cuts in domestic spending. But, Democrats argue that U.S. domestic (non-defense) programs need to be increased (by 7 percent, or $38 billion) to similar levels as those proposed for the U.S. military.
In the meantime, politically-charged debates have intensified over Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, and immigration reforms. Some conservative republicans are pushing a plan to defund Planned Parenthood through the upcoming continuing resolution. Since there is not a veto-proof majority in the Senate to sustain defunding language in a CR, conservatives would be better served to avoid a potential government shutdown and ask for a separate vote on the issue. This way lawmakers can focus on their differences over domestic (non-defense) spending levels that will determine the fate of an eventual omnibus appropriations package, tax extenders and the length and authorization levels for federal highways and our military.
In all the years I’ve known Leader McConnell there is one thing I’ve learned, if he tells you something you can bank on it! So when he tells the American public the federal government will not shutdown at the end of this month, you can count on it. Consider, when he was voted in as Majority Leader of the Senate he vowed to get the Senate back to “regular order.” Since becoming the Majority Leader, the Senate has held 15 confirmation votes for Administration positions including Secretary of Defense, U.S. Attorney General, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Undersecretary of National Institute for Standards and Technology and four District Judges. Issues covering human trafficking, Medicare doc fix and reauthorization of Children’s Health Program, surveillance, cybersecurity, African Growth Opportunity Act and congressional oversight of a potential White House deal with Iran were adopted. In the Senate, a test vote occurred on the reauthorization of the export-import bank. Both congressional chambers of Congress adopted a budget resolution – the first since 2009. Both congressional chambers of Congress adopted the (annual) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA); the Senate failed to pass NDAA the past two years. And, most recently, both congressional chambers gave the Obama Administration a huge victory in passing Trade Promotion Authority and the Trade Adjustment Act.
One other thing, there is no better negotiator in Washington than Leader McConnell. Even with the odds stacked against him and amidst a lot of distrust between the political parties, congressional Republicans and the White House, I have absolute faith that a budget deal will be negotiated. A secured budget deal is a win for all Americans. Whether or not either party may be able to claim victory is yet to be determined.