Grid­lock in Con­gress may presage more of the same

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Erica Werner AP Con­gres­sional Correspondent

A bit­terly di­vided Con­gress ad­journed Thurs­day for the elec­tion, hav­ing accomplished lit­tle more than the bare min­i­mum, with law­mak­ers look­ing ahead to a lame-duck ses­sion and a weighty todo list al­ready pil­ing up for next year.

A must-pass spend­ing bill, agreed to af­ter an un­nec­es­sar­ily pro­tracted strug­gle and re­peated rounds of par­ti­san fin­ger-point­ing, ex­tends gov­ern­ment fund­ing un­til Dec. 9 and ad­dresses the Zika cri­sis with $1.1 bil­lion months af­ter Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ini­tially re­quested fed­eral aid. Law­mak­ers ad­vanced spend­ing for flood vic­tims in Louisiana and a com­pro­mise to help vic­tims of lead-tainted wa­ter in Flint, Michi­gan.

Obama swiftly signed the spend­ing bill into law.

When they re­turn to Washington af­ter the elec­tion, law­mak­ers will have to com­plete the an­nual ap­pro­pri­a­tions process, which fell apart this year even though get­ting it on track was a top pri­or­ity for the lead­ers of Con­gress’ GOP ma­jori­ties, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis­con­sin and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky. Only one of the 12 must-pass an­nual spend­ing bills has been com­pleted.

“This is what di­vided gov­ern­ment gets you,” Ryan said Thurs­day. “You don’t al­ways get what you want in di­vided gov­ern­ment.”

Yet next year is likely to her­ald still more di­vi­sions. Even if Repub­li­cans hold the House as ex­pected, man­age to win the White House with Don­ald Trump and hang onto their frag­ile Se­nate ma­jor­ity, mi­nor­ity Democrats would still ex­er­cise sig­nif­i­cant power in the Se­nate. Repub­li­can con­trol would be in­com­plete un­der the most op­ti­mistic sce­nar­ios for the GOP.

If Democrats win the White House or the Se­nate, it would usher in an­other era of di­vided gov­ern­ment, per­haps even more fraught.

At the same time, Con­gress and the next pres­i­dent, whether Trump or Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton, will con­front a series of daunt­ing tasks pushed off into 2017 by a catch-all bud­get deal ne­go­ti­ated un­der the for­mer House speaker, John Boehner, on his way out the door last year.

Per­haps most mon­u­men­tal, the debt limit will need to be raised by around mid­sum­mer, some­thing that has pro­voked in­tense bat­tles in re­cent years.

Law­mak­ers will need to re­visit ma­jor pro­grams, in­clud­ing the Chil­dren’s Health In­surance Pro­gram un­der Med­i­caid, along with pay­ments to hos­pi­tals and com­mu­nity health cen­ters and ex­pir­ing tax cred­its for a range of in­dus­tries. There’s also the an­nual bud­get­ing process, a peren­ni­ally tricky de­fense pol­icy bill, reau­tho­riza­tion of the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion and a Supreme Court va­cancy to fill.

“Given the heavy weight of some those is­sues, some of them are not go­ing to be del­i­cate by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion,” said Rep. Mark San­ford, R-S.C.

Which­ever party con­trols the Se­nate, the ma­jor­ity is likely to be ra­zor-thin and sen­a­tors will fo­cus im­me­di­ately on the 2018 elec­tion, when Democrats will be de­fend­ing tough seats in GOP lean­ing states.

In the Repub­li­can-led House, the num­ber of mod­er­ate-minded GOP law­mak­ers is likely to be re­duced, po­ten­tially giv­ing more power to the House Free­dom Cau­cus, which fre­quently op­poses rou­tine leg­is­la­tion and im­pedes deal­mak­ing by lead­er­ship.

And Ryan is widely seen as hav­ing pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions in 2020, which may com­pli­cate his will­ing­ness to cut deals with the White House.

“Ryan will have a de­ci­sion to make,” said the sec­ond-rank­ing House Demo­cratic leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Mary­land. “Do I want to be per­ceived as the leader of the ob­struc­tion­ist party, or do I want to be seen as the con­struc­tive op­po­si­tion which works with the pres­i­dent and the Se­nate to achieve progress?”

Be­fore get­ting to next year, law­mak­ers must first get through the post-elec­tion lame-duck ses­sion. The elec­tion re­sults will de­ter­mine much of what is pos­si­ble, but prospects for ac­tion may be slim apart from com­plet­ing work on the needed spend­ing bills, which Con­gress could end up punt­ing with yet an­other ex­ten­sion.

Ryan is hold­ing out hope for progress on crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form leg­is­la­tion sought by Obama and mem­bers of both par­ties, but McCon­nell sug­gested Thurs­day that was un­likely. And Obama is push­ing hard to ad­vance his legacy-shap­ing trade deal for Asia, the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, but McCon­nell and Ryan have in­di­cated that is un­likely. McCon­nell has said re­peat­edly he has no plans to ad­vance Obama’s Supreme Court nom­i­nee, Mer­rick Gar­land, this year.

Be­yond that, law­mak­ers must com­plete a wa­ter projects bill with the Flint money in it and could come to­gether around a med­i­cal re­search bill.

Be­fore leav­ing town, con­gres­sional lead­ers de­voted some of Thurs­day to blam­ing each other for their slim record of ac­com­plish­ments so far this year, tak­ing credit for what did hap­pen, and in­sist­ing that if noth­ing much hap­pens in the lame-duck it will be the fault of the other party, not their own.

“My hope is that af­ter the elec­tion, they’ll drop their po­lit­i­cal shenani­gans and we’ll get on at do­ing the se­ri­ous busi­ness of ac­tu­ally ap­pro­pri­at­ing,” Ryan said of Democrats.

Democrats, of course, begged to dif­fer.

“Repub­li­cans have not done their ba­sic work of gov­ern­ment,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “And that is the truth.”


Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky, sec­ond from left, stand­ing with, from left, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn, of Texas, lis­tens to a ques­tion dur­ing a news con­fer­ence on Capi­tol Hill in Washington on Sept. 13.

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