Funny How Time Slips Away

Willie Nelson couldn’t have said it better. Time is running short for the 113th Congress. As lawmakers return from their summer recess, there are only 10 legislative days in September when both chambers are in session, after which comes a lame-duck session, a typically unpredictable time for legislating.

To recap where things stand, Congress has yet to complete work on any of the 12 spending bills required to keep the government operating. In the few days remaining before the October 1 start of a new fiscal year, there’s a very slim chance that lawmakers could agree on appropriations for veterans affairs, fueled in large part by the VA health care controversy that rocked Washington over the past several months. Much more likely, however, is a continuing resolution for all departments and agencies, lasting until mid-December.

There’s no question that election year flash-point issues, such as EPA climate change regulations and the Affordable Care Act, have had an effect on legislative business. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has postponed work on spending bills, rather than force vulnerable Democrats to take tough votes on these issues before Election Day.

For his part, it’s not in Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) political interest to agree to any funding decisions before the November elections. Since the House is almost certain to remain under Republican control and the Senate majority could change hands, McConnell wants to wait until he knows whether he controls the Senate next January.

It seems a distant memory when, in January, appropriators were able to negotiate a $1.1 trillion fiscal year 2014 omnibus bill that included new funding and some sequestration relief for all 12 annual appropriations bills. The December Ryan/Murray budget deal also handed lawmakers a discretionary top line from which to formulate fiscal year 2015 appropriations.

But today’s gridlock has certainly dampened any leftover sense of optimism that appropriators could return to the traditional process of legislating.

Regardless, some appropriators say not all is lost from their early burst of activity. We’ll see.

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