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Congress is Bottlenecked, Again

By Steve Bell, Jack Rametta

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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At the beginning of this year, we noted that Congress had a number of rapidly approaching deadlines, both self-imposed and statutory. As we enter the last few months of 2017, Congress still has a long list of issues left to address and in fact its to-do list has grown since January. We now list at least 13 items on Congress’s “To-Do list” (including several political priorities for both parties).  

With much to do, it seems likely that Congress may take an omnibus approach to this logjam.

The chart above shows both a list of congressional “must pass” items (in the form of legislative expirations) which must be addressed before December, and a list of political priorities that must be passed during the same period. “Must pass” in this context only means that if no action is taken on an issue before December, it will become more difficult or costly to address. For example, Congress could fly past the deadline to pass a budget agreement for FY2018, but doing so would precipitate a government shutdown.  

The chart above shows some key dates on the congressional timeline: most notably, December 8 when the 3-month budget deal will expire and the debt limit will be reinstated. Worryingly, Congress has barely begun the process of negotiating an FY2018 budget resolution. Only the House Budget Committee has passed an FY2018 resolution (along partisan lines), the Senate Budget Committee has not.  

The chart below shows where Congress is in the budget resolution process, and the key steps that remain (not all the steps in the budget process are included). It is also important to note that the House and Senate budget blueprints are drastically different and even use different economic assumptions which will complicate the conference process. The appropriations process is also far behind.  

With much to do, it seems likely that Congress may take an omnibus approach to this logjam, as it has in the past — bundling together as many items as possible into a package that would be difficult to vote against. Given the restraints of time, it seems unlikely that Republicans will be able to execute more than one item on their priority list, and even that could be a tall order. 

KEYWORDS: 115TH CONGRESS, FY2018