WASHINGTON — Lawmakers returned after the August recess with a slew of major deadlines looming at the end of September.
Now, on the second day back, they are considering a deal with bipartisan backing that would postpone two major issues — the debt ceiling and the expiration of the current federal budget — until December.
If the package passes both the House and Senate, it could also mean the Vermont Legislature will not return to Montpelier in October for a tentatively scheduled special session.
At midday Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued a short statement announcing that during a meeting with President Donald Trump, they had come to an agreement on how to deal with three major issues as part of a single package.
The package will include funding for Hurricane Harvey recovery and will push the debt ceiling deadline back and fund the government until Dec. 15.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Schumer said the deal was “a really good moment of some bipartisanship.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that later this week he will propose the budget continuing resolution and debt ceiling extension as an amendment to a bill the House passed Wednesday approving $7.9 billion for disaster relief in Texas.
The president reportedly sided with Democratic leaders against the views of congressional Republicans. McConnell acknowledged he would offer the amendment “based on the president’s decision.”
“His feeling was that we needed to come together to not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis,” McConnell said.
As the bipartisan deal won praise from the Democratic leadership, Vermont’s lone House member expressed little enthusiasm for it.
“In the world we’re in, it’s good news, but it’s nothing to brag about,” Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said of the agreement Wednesday afternoon.
Welch said he will vote for the package because it provides critical funding to Texas hurricane recovery, keeps the lights on in government and avoids defaulting on national debt.
However, he said, it just achieves the “basic responsibilities” of avoiding government shutdown.
“If we were acting responsibly we would be passing budgets,” he said.
Welch said the agreement to postpone the debt ceiling and budget issues until December could make it easier to deal with some of the other major deadlines coming before Congress later this month.
Key programs will be coming up for reauthorization at the end of September — such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Flood Insurance Program.
Immigration reform is also in the spotlight in the wake of Trump’s decision to end a program that offers protection from deportation to some unauthorized immigrants.
David Carle, a staffer for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the political situation for major issues in Washington was shaped by recent events, including Harvey.
“Developments in these early days of this month and last days of last month have changed the dynamics somewhat in Congress,” he said.
Leahy has not decided whether he will back the package, according to his staff. He is strongly in favor of directing funding to hurricane relief in Texas, but he is waiting to see the details of the budget continuing resolution before he pledges his support to the package.
If Congress passes a continuing resolution for the budget, it could temporarily quell some anxiety about the state-level impact of proposed changes to federal funding.
The budget the Trump administration put forward earlier this year would have significant impacts on Vermont’s budget. In anticipation of possible changes on the federal level, legislative leaders tentatively marked out time in October when state lawmakers could return to deal with the fiscal impact.
According to a staffer for Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-Grand Isle, a continuing resolution may make a special legislative session unnecessary.
“A continuing resolution isn’t likely to make the kind of significant cuts that will call the Legislature back,” Katherine Levasseur said.
However, she added that leaders were in communication with the congressional delegation on how developments in Washington might affect Vermont.