Lawmakers will return next week to a pressing deadline to find a solution to fund the government before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on Apr. 28. The current fiscal year, which ends Sep. 30, has been funded by a series of CRs that maintain fiscal 2016 spending levels for all federal programs. That option is likely off the table in this round of negotiations as some agencies, particularly the Pentagon, have warned that extending the CR through the end of the fiscal year would complicate their procurement and contracting processes. Instead, lawmakers will need to craft a more detailed omnibus spending measure, or a so-called “cromnibus” that would maintain funding levels for most agencies while providing additional resources to the Department of Defense. Given the lack of consensus and the short timeline for negotiation, lawmakers have also discussed passing a week-long stopgap that would maintain government funding while they hash out a longer-term agreement. Some Members from both parties believe a weeklong stopgap would hurt their negotiating position, but the impending threat of a government shutdown would likely persuade those lawmakers to vote in favor of a short-term spending extension.
The Week in Review
Lawmakers left Washington to start a two-week break in honor of the Easter and Passover holidays. As with a previous recess in February, numerous Republican lawmakers faced hostile receptions in town hall meetings over the American Health Care Act (AHCA) and other Trump Administration policies. The Republican plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is still alive, but it remains unclear whether the White House or congressional leadership will be able to bridge the divide between the moderate and conservative wings of the party. More details on President Trump’s position is included in our roundup below.
Congress is out for a two-week recess in honor of the Easter and Passover holidays. When lawmakers return, they will have only be four legislative days to address a funding solution for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year as the current continuing resolution (CR) governing funds will expire on Apr. 28. Other priorities expected on the other side of the recess include negotiation of a tax reform package, a possible revival of the Republican health care plan, and the beginning of the appropriations process for the 2018 fiscal year. The Senate is scheduled to return on Monday, Apr. 24, and the House a day later, Tuesday, Apr. 25.
The Week in Review
With Easter recess calling, policymakers in Washington had a noteworthy week on both the domestic and international fronts. Starting in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “went nuclear” to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch as Democrats rallied the votes to maintain a futile filibuster. With 45 Democrats opposed to Gorsuch’s nomination – mostly over his strongly conservative record and in retaliation their belief that Republicans slighted Obama nominee Merrick Garland by refusing to hold a hearing or vote on his nomination for nearly 300 days – the majority elected to change Senate rules in order to confirm Gorsuch on a simple majority. Many senators on both sides lamented the loss of the 60-vote threshold for high court nominees, fearing that future selections may be far more ideological, but no compromise solution ever truly took shape. Gorsuch was officially confirmed on Friday and will be able to hear the court’s last few cases before they adjourn in June.
Last night, U.S. naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea fired fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack carried out by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this week. It marks the first time the United States has struck the Syrian government’s military infrastructure in the country’s six-year civil war that has entangled Syria’s neighbors, empowered terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and sparked a refugee crisis that has deeply impacted European and American politics. White House officials have been quoted saying that “we’re done until another decision is made,” signaling that this may only be a punitive response to Assad’s violation of a 2013 agreement negotiated by Russia and the Obama Administration to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. However, reaction in Congress this morning has been mixed, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) calling for future steps to create “an alternative” to Assad’s rule of Syria. The White House has not stated whether it will seek an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) from Congress to back further action against the Syrian regime.
The Senate is set to go nuclear today as the partisan confrontation over Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court reaches its seemingly inevitable conclusion. A cloture vote on the nomination – which would require 60 votes to be approved – is set for this morning and is expected to fail, with as many as 43 of the chamber’s Democrats likely to line up to block the nominee. As soon as that vote fails, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will initiate the parliamentary steps necessary to launch the “nuclear option” and allow for Gorsuch to be confirmed on a simple majority vote. Specifically, Leader McConnell will likely raise a “point of order” asserting that a simple majority vote can end debate in the chamber for Supreme Court nominees. The point of order can then be approved by all 52 Senate Republicans, clearing the way for another vote on ending debate on Gorsuch’s nomination – this one only requiring a simple majority to be approved. A final up-or-down vote could then be held either today or tomorrow, but even considering the importance of a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court, Gorsuch’s confirmation will likely be remembered for the legacy that the change in Senate process will have on future nominations.
If you believe that America’s greatness was built on the concept of incremental policy movements built on compromises – then you are likely troubled that as of late it seems like both sides of the political spectrum consistently retreat to their respective wings and therefore seem to perpetually advocate binary choices (i.e., you’re either with us or against us) that result in policy that flip flops with whoever is in power. We have said before that President Trump is the wrong answer to the right question and after the failure of the Health Care legislation it appears that he may be trying to be the disruptor that he campaigned as – however, much to the concern of establishment Republicans that might require the President to work with Democrats. With the funding of the government quickly running out – conveniently set to expire on the President’s symbolic 100th day in office – he is being presented an opportunity to show his willingness to compromise and put a ribbon his first legislative victory. Let’s see if he takes it.
The Senate took one more step towards going nuclear yesterday after Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) became the 41st Democrat to commit to filibustering the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. With the minority’s votes secured, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will likely file cloture today to begin the formal floor consideration process and begin the parliamentary process for using the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules and kill the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans have given every indication that they intend to follow through with changing Senate rules, and at this point, it seems that neither party is likely to budge from their position. The collapse of the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees marks the end of a decades-long battle over the role of the minority in confirming judicial nominations – then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) killed the filibuster for low-level federal judges in response to Republican intransigence in 2013 – and it may lead to more ideological judicial selections by both parties in the decades to come. Floor statements on the Gorsuch nomination will likely reflect that history and the uncertain future more than any commentary on the nominee himself.
Jet fumes are in the air as lawmakers eye the end of a six-week stretch in Washington with the beginning of a two-week recess this Friday. The impending battle over Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court will be the week’s highlight, but ongoing negotiations on funding the government beyond the expiration of the current continuing resolution (CR) and a resurrection of Republican health care legislation will also be items to watch.
The Week in Review
It was a relatively quiet week in Washington compared to the American Health Care Act (AHCA) related chaos of the week prior. The most notable floor action came from the House as the chamber advanced a controversial Senate-passed disapproval resolution (S.J. Res. 34) that would nullify a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule governing how Internet service providers may utilize consumer data. Critics claim that the resolution represents a gutting of internet privacy rights, while proponents have argued that the FCC’s rule could limit the ability of broadband providers to compete for online advertising dollars. House passage, by a narrow 215-205 margin, sends the resolution to the president’s desk, and the White House has indicated President Trump will sign the measure.