In the lobbying business we call it “silly season,” that time frame that most epitomizes the old axiom warning you should never watch either legislation or sausage being made. I’m talking about the last couple of months before a federal election, those last weeks in which the full House and one-third of the Senate, up for reelection, become a veritable circus of rhetoric and inaction.
Both parties are hoping to maximize campaign time. Partisan control of Congress is up for grabs in November, and the GOP can smell victory. Everyone prays for no last-minute missteps or stupid statements on nasty issues; no candidate wants to vote on any of the substantive albeit ugly issues out there, including immigration reform, tax policy, etc.
For those of us who play in the same sandbox as Congress, it’s been clear for a number of weeks that the only “safe” piece of major legislation on which to vote prior to November 4 is the continuing resolution (CR) to continue to fund government operations past September 30 when the federal fiscal year ends. No one of either party wants to try and explain or defend shutting the federal government down a month before the election. The reward of this one act play is an early exit. Even though Congress just this week formally returned from its five-week summer recess, the plan is to pass the CR and get the heck out of town next week.
Both Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D, MD) and Rep. Hal Rogers (R, KY), the respective chairs of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, began begging the troops a couple of weeks ago to forgo their parochial and personal issues so the CR would remain clear of any amendments or unrelated riders. But these veterans knew that even as they issued their plea, it would fall on deaf ears.
From both House and Senate, both Republican and Democrat offices have come a veritable flood of press releases demand the CR carry just about every issues Congress could have achieved but didn’t. These are essentially campaign pieces, the kind of “official” statements that allow candidates to say, “Look what I pushed for; they just wouldn’t listen.” So far there have been demands for tax code amendments, limits on the President’s ability to do immigration executive orders, energy legislation, penalties for U.S. corporations who stash profits overseas, Export-Import Bank reauthorization, and nullification of USDA’s rulemaking on farmers who contract with big companies.
But the granddaddy of all the last-minute add-ons belongs to the White House. While about half the last-minute administration request for emergency Ebola funding is in the CR — $25 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and $15 million for the Biological Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to ramp up production of an experimental anti-Ebola drug – the President also asked for money to fund his strategy for armed drone and fighter jet attacks in the Middle East, as well as additional authorities to carry out his strategy. While the House and Senate agree with action generally, debate over how much should be added delayed House consideration of its CR.
All of this will magically be resolved early this coming week and the CR will pass, probably along with a passel of smaller, noncontroversial bills. At that point the most dangerous place in Washington, DC, to be is between a member of Congress and an airport.
Funny – or sad, depending on your perspective – how efficient Congress gets when an election is about six weeks away.