Congress is currently debating a bill to disapprove the Iran nuclear deal and working to put together a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running after September 30. Both of these issues are staring at a deadline that requires immediate action. Congress has until September 17 to act to either approve or disapprove the Iran nuclear deal. And, of course, funding for the federal government runs out at midnight September 30 unless Congress either passes and president signs all FY2016 appropriations bills or enacts a CR to extend funding into FY2016.
Even if Congress does overcome strong Republican resistance to funding Planned Parenthood and passes a CR before September 30 that extends government funding for a few months, it still has to complete action on all 12 FY2016 appropriations bills, either individually or grouped in mini-omnibus bills, or in one omnibus bill takes. This will take time and hard bargaining, not only among Republicans and Democrats, but with the While House. Complicating this bargaining will be a number of highly-charged political obstacles.
First efforts by Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood movement are not going away. Led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a number of Republicans will try to force a defunding provision in any final deal on appropriations. But, if the president receives a bill that excludes funding for Planned Parenthood he will surely veto it.
Second, Senate Democrats have been urging Republicans to negotiate a new budget deal that changes sequestration (automatic across-the-board cuts). Seeing no progress toward budget discussions, Democrats have blocked action to proceed on any appropriations bill in the Senate until budget talks begin.
Complicating any action to change sequestration is a strong desire among most Republicans and some Democrats to increase defense spending. The House-passed FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill adds about $38 billion to defense base budget requirements by including that amount in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). This mechanism would get around defense funding caps set in the Budget Control Act.
The White House and Democrats argue that including the additional base budget funding in OCO is bad defense budgeting, does nothing to address sequestration, and could lead to cuts to nondefense programs. The White House has threatened a presidential veto of any bill that increases defense funding at the expense of nondefense programs.
Congress must also complete action on the FY2016 Defense Authorization bill. The House and Senate have passed their versions of the bill and appear close to completing the conference resolving the differences between the two bills. The major issues to be resolved are TRICARE co-pays, changes to the military retirement system, and provisions regarding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Both the House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have expressed confidence that they can finish the conference soon.
Other unfinished legislative items include the Highway and Transit and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)reauthorization bills. Before leaving for recess, the House and Senate agreed on a three-month extension (until October 29) of the highway bill after the House refused to take up the Senate-passed 6-year reauthorization that included controversial measures to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. The FAA authorization will expire on September 30. Congress is expected to extend authorization for six to nine months to allow time to work our differences between the House and Senate.
Before the end of the year Congress will also have to deal with increasing the debt. Action on the debt ceiling had been expected in October, but, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), improvement in the FY2015 deficit picture means that Congress will have until late November or early December to act (when Treasury will run out of so-called “extraordinary cash management measures”).
And, in what has become an annual ritual, Congress will have to address some 50 expiring tax credits (so-called tax extenders) that will expire on December 31. These tax credits include individual tax deductions, business incentives (e.g. research and development credits), and energy tax credits. For a number of years Congress has routinely extended these tax credits for only a year. This year Congress will probably extend the credits through FY2016.