The Republican-controlled Congress has been back from August recess for one full day and lawmakers already seemed overwhelmed by the slate of problems they left unresolved before adjourning.
The GOP returned to Washington hoping to make short work of a resolution of disapproval on the Iran nuclear deal before moving on to the equally pressing issue of working out a measure to fund the government and avoid a shutdown.
But House Republicans have revolted against the leadership’s plan, arguing the agreement’s 60-day congressional review period hasn’t started yet because the Obama administration hasn’t shared the details of so-called “side deals” between Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Their Senate counterparts have had trouble hiding their disbelief over the unforeseen tactic.
“As I understand the law, once September 17 passes is it not the case that the president will take the view that he is free to go forward” and lift economic sanctions on Iran, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said during a Capitol Hill press conference.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) said “the best way to express concerns about the documents, but also concerns about the deal itself, is to vote to disapprove the deal and to go forward in that manner. That is the best way I believe at this moment for us to express our disapproval.”
Ultimately, House leadership worked out a tenuous compromise where members will cast a series of votes related to the Iran compact, including a resolution of approval. The proposal is sure to fail but the move is designed to force Democrats to abandon the White House and deliver another political embarrassment to President Obama.
Still, the intraparty warfare doesn’t bode well for lawmakers to pass a bill to fund the government by October 1 and prevent a shutdown.
Earlier Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) dismissed a question about when he would bring up a “clean” continuing resolution to keep the government running.
“I have not made any decisions on when we would move the CR,” he said during a press conference following a meeting of all Republican members, referring to the continuing resolution.
Unlike the bewildering debate over how to proceed on the Iran deal, the GOP split over spending has been building for a while.
Conservatives want any funding bill to cut off millions in federal dollars for Planned Parenthood after hidden camera videos showed organization officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue. On Tuesday a sizeable group of rank-and-file members said they wouldn’t back any spending bill that contains money for Planned Parenthood.
Yet GOP leaders and other senior Republicans, like House Appropriations Committee chair Hal Rogers (R-KY), have shown no appetite for forcing another government shutdown.
Boehner’s speakership could be on the line, with members of the sizeable House Freedom Caucus signaling that they are waiting to see how leaders handle their concerns before possibly launching a coup for the gavel.
Leadership hopes to mollify them and others by holding a series of listening sessions for members to air their grievances about the spending impasse and propose solutions.
Meanwhile, Democrats contend now is the time for Republicans to finally sit down at the negotiating table and work out a compromise spending bill as well as the other fiscal matters on the horizon.
“On any CR, we have to make sure it’s at the right length. We know we’re going to have to have a short CR, but it should be short enough that we don’t have to keep coming back for debt ceiling, tax extenders. We should do it all at once,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters. “We need to make sure that there is something in the way of a negotiation. It’s not going to happen just because they want it to happen.”
Democrats have long objected to a maneuver contained in the GOP budget blueprint that funneled an additional $38 billion into the Defense Department’s war fund that would allow the agency to skirt budget caps. They want a deal that would lift the caps across the federal government, not just for the Pentagon.
“A perfect storm is out there brewing,” according to Reid. “I talked to [Treasury Secretary] Jack Lew a week ago. He doesn’t know how long the government has money left to continue paying its bills. It’s not a real long time. He said after the receipts come in for September, he’ll have a better idea, but that’s a ways from now.”
When asked if he had been contacted by Republicans about such talks, Reid replied: “We’ve heard nothing, zero.”