As the Labor Day weekend came to a close, both chambers returned to Capitol Hill to proceed with legislative deliberation for FY17. With the end of the fiscal year quickly approaching, Congress must come to an agreement on the conclusion of appropriations bills. Among the most significant, in both size and breadth, is the Defense Appropriations bill.
What is the status of the defense bills?
Before the recess, the Senate defense appropriations bill was unable to proceed to floor action as Democrats raised concerns about spending levels. Hoping to avoid a government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he will advance a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through December 9th. The CR would also allow more time for the Senate to solidify a position on Zika funding. While House Republicans have yet to publicly reveal their intentions, they will meet behind closed doors on Friday to discuss the newly presented option. Some more conservative House GOP members have even suggested a CR that pushes the timeline into next year, perhaps into March 2017. As of this writing, it is unlikely a CR would extend that long.
As partisan differences continue to create obstacles for the legislative process, this week thePentagon attempted to speed up the process by undercutting the House GOP’s budget plans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The strategy attempts to pit both chambers against each other using pressure from top military officials to underline how the GOP’s budget is hurting national defense. The plan, while bold, is not wholly unexpected; Defense Secretary Carter has been vocal about his opposition to the $18 billion funds taken from a war purse (the OCO account) in a time of war. The most likely outcome at this stage is an omnibus appropriation after the election.
The NDAA, which was left in staff conferencing before the recess, is not likely to complete conference before the fiscal year-end and the election break at the end of September. The House and Senate positions on topline funding remain too far apart. Other issues like increased troop strength, increasing wages and hardware acquisition are challenging, but are likely to be resolved. Look for high-profile meetings of Armed Services Chairmen McCain and Thornberry throughout September to keep political heat on the process.
The majority in the Senate hangs in the balance by a few very competitive seats this November. The “top” of the ticket can influence several specific races.
The top five most competitive races with incumbent Republicans to watch heading into November:
Florida: Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) (top) is challenging Republican incumbent Senator Marco Rubio (bottom).
Illinois: Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) (top) is challenging Republican incumbent Senator Mark Kirk (bottom).
New Hampshire: Governor Maggie Hassan (D) (top) is challenging Republican incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte (bottom).
Pennsylvania: Katie McGinty (former Environmental Advisor to Vice President Al Gore and Bill Clinton and former Chief of Staff to PA Governor Tom Wolf) (top) is challenging Republican incumbent Senator Pat Toomey (bottom).
North Carolina: Deborah Ross (former Member of North Carolina House of Representatives and attorney) (top) is challenging Republican incumbent Senator Richard Burr (bottom).