With midterm elections approaching, US legislators have limited time to deal with a Syria strikes resolution plus a Pentagon spending bill. (US Government)
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WASHINGTON — With only about a dozen legislative days left before November’s midterm elections, a US congressional debate and vote on a Syria strikes authorization measure could further delay work on two defense bills.
The House and Senate are slated to get back to work the second week of September. But both chambers are expected to leave again before that month ends so members can focus exclusively on the campaign trail in October.
The Senate’s official calendar is slated to be in session again starting Sept. 8, but is expected to adjourn for an October-long campaign recess. One report has Senate leaders eyeing a late-September Washington departure.
The House is slated to have only 12 legislative days in September and early October, and is scheduled to leave town on Oct. 2.
It’s not difficult to see how a lengthy process in each chamber to craft a Syria use-of-force measure, potentially hold hearings, pass the measure at the committee level, debate it on the House and Senate floors, debate and vote on amendments, then hold a final vote could take up much of September.
And if the House and Senate pass different measures, a conference committee would then have to iron out differences, followed by floor debate and votes in each chamber.
“They’ve only got a few legislative days in September and before the election,” said Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security.
“They could probably move a couple bills, but it would be a heavy lift” to do a military force measure and much other substantive legislation, he added.
One of those measures is expected to be a massive government-wide continuing resolution to keep the government open while members hit the campaign trail.
“It’s not just an overwhelming likelihood that a continuing resolution will be needed to keep federal agencies operating and prevent the government from shutting down, it’s a virtual certainty,” according to Stan Collender, a longtime federal budget analyst.
A Syria strikes authorization measure and a CR each would likely take at least a congressional week — Tuesday-Thursday — of floor time in each chamber.
Last year, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee returned from the annual August recess early to craft a Syria strikes resolution. Neither chamber ever voted on the measure, but the entire process took a few weeks.
There is no indication the panel will come back early this year to craft a measure authorizing American military strikes in Syria, although an increasing number of lawmakers want one. That means all the work, debate and votes would occur after the upper chamber’s Sept. 8 return.
That makes Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid’s goal of finishing his chamber’s version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) seem like a long shot.
And even Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told CongressWatch before the break that he doubts the upper chamber could even get its 2015 Pentagon spending bill to the floor. A month taken up by a Syria measure could permanently kill that bill.
(The House already has passed versions of both defense bills.)
Just before lawmakers left for their August break, a reporter asked Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., if he expected the chamber to once again put off work on the NDAA until late in the year.
“Please don’t wish that on me,” Levin said with a frown. ■