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It’s Crunch Time Again in Congress

Thune answers a question after the Oct. 20 weekly Republican Senate news conference. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Thune answers a question after the Oct. 20 weekly Republican Senate news conference. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

On deadline: That’s the theme of the next two weeks on Capitol Hill.  

The current stopgap highway funding expires Thursday, and the Treasury Department said Congress must raise the debt limit by Nov. 3. Upholding the full faith and credit of the United States is trickier. Senate Republicans are hoping the House — perhaps in a final act by retiring Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio — takes the first leap in passing legislation to provide an increase in the nation’s borrowing authority.  

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune told CQ Roll Call the procedural rules and potential for filibusters mean it could take three days or more for the Senate to respond, depending on what kind of procedural vehicle the House sends over.  

“I hope they start moving something,” the South Dakota Republican said. “The clock’s winding down.”  

Given those constraints, at some point senators could have to bite the bullet and act first.  

Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, have been concerned by the lack of movement in the House. While Reid offered praise for the ability of Paul D. Ryan, who is expected to be elected speaker this week, to negotiate with Democrats, he also warned the Wisconsin Republican not to make weekend plans for the near future.  

“I have to mention, however, one of the conditions that Congressman Ryan has given the House Republicans — that he doesn’t want to work weekends,” Reid said on the Senate floor on Oct. 22. “Well, if he gets the job, I hope he will not take weekends off until we do something to solve the debt crisis and to fund the government.”  

As for the status of talks toward bipartisan agreement coming together on either of those?  

“If they were, why would I tell you?” Reid said when asked about that later Thursday. “I hope so, but I mean I don’t know, you have to talk to Republicans. It’s their problem.”  

For the surface transportation bill, the way forward is clear: Move another short-term extension through the House and Senate, with negotiators getting to work on a longer bill.  

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James M. Inhofe predicted last week “Congress should be able to send a bill to the president’s desk by Thanksgiving,” after House committee action on its version of a long-term surface transportation authorization.  

“The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has taken an important step forward by completing a bipartisan markup of its 6-year highway reauthorization bill,” the Oklahoma Republican said in a statement. “Both the Senate and the House bills have many similarities that will allow for a very short conference period.”  

Before either of those issues are completed, senators will spend Tuesday processing amendments and, if all goes as planned, completing work on a bipartisan cybersecurity information sharing bill that has been broadly popular in the wake of cyber attacks, despite opposition from big players in the tech industry.  


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