October 2, 2015

International Affairs Budget Update 10/2/15

1. Government Shutdown Averted: What’s Next?

With just 12 hours to spare, Congress prevented a government shutdown by passing a ten-week Continuing Resolution (CR) that will keep the lights on until December 11th.  The Senate approved the CR by a vote of 78 to 20 and sent the measure to the House where it passed 277 to 151 with all 186 Democrats and 91 Republicans voting in favor.  The President signed the CR, which maintains spending for the International Affairs Budget at slightly below current levels (it imposes a 0.21% across-the-board cut), into law just hours before the deadline.

With the stop-gap measure in place, the question on everyone’s mind is whether Congressional leaders can reach a broader budget agreement before the CR runs out.

Impact on the International Affairs Budget

As a reminder, the proposed CR included a few important anomalies for International Affairs. Specifically, the bill:

  • Maintains Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding at its FY15 level ($9.3 billion) and exempts it from the 0.21% across-the-board cut imposed on the rest of the discretionary budget;
  • Allows funding flexibility, such as higher operating rates, for assistance needed to support Ukraine’s efforts to counter external aggression;
  • Extends authority through the duration of the CR for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; and
  • Extends authority through the duration of the CR for the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.  

Ryan-Murray 2.0?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said this week that he and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have begun talks with President Obama to negotiate a two-year budget deal.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and leadership from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have all expressed their support for a comprehensive deal that leads to a funding bill that keeps the government operating through the end of FY16.

While the major players in the House, Senate, and White House are working together, the parameters of a budget deal are still unclear. If negotiators reach a deal similar to the agreement negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), it could lead to increases to the International Affairs Budget—although it is much too early in the process to know for sure.

2. Congress Acts on International Affairs Items

In addition to the CR, two items related to the International Affairs Budget saw movement this week. The authorization for the Export-Import Bank expired in July after Congress failed to approve its reauthorization in the wake of opposition from several conservative Republicans. The highway funding bill is considered to be the most likely legislative vehicle for an attempt to move Ex-Im reauthorization; however, this week Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) filed a discharge petition to move H.R. 3611, the Export-Import Bank Reform and Reauthorization Act, out of Committee and to a vote on the House floor.  The seldom used procedure allows a bill to circumvent the Committee process and come to the floor for a vote if 218 Members sign the petition.  At this point, over 30 Republicans have endorsed the discharge petition and Democrats are expected to join them.  If a majority signs the petition the legislation could come to the House floor later in October.

Also this week, the Senate passed a four-year reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The bill provides $3.5 million in annual funding for the Commission.

3. House GOP Headed for Elections

House Republicans will hold leadership elections on Thursday, October 8th, the second such election this year.  With Speaker Boehner’s decision to resign at the end of October, Republican lawmakers will elect a new Speaker—subject to a vote on the floor—and other leadership positions.

  • Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) are in the race for the Speakership. McCarthy is widely expected to win. Late Friday, media reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) may also run.
  • House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) is vying for McCarthy’s position if McCarthy is elected Speaker, as is House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA).
  • Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R-NC), House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX), Senior Deputy Whip Dennis Ross (R-FL), and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) are competing for Scalise’s position if it opens up.

The full House will vote on the Speaker at the end of October when Speaker Boehner resigns.  As is custom, House Democrats will nominate their Minority Leader—Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—to run for Speaker against the Republican nominee.

Issues such as the highway funding bill, lifting the debt ceiling, Export-Import Bank reauthorization, and the budget deal will need to be negotiated over the next several months and the new faces around the Republican leadership table will undoubtedly have an impact on each.