WASHINGTON — Congress starts the week under pressure to avert a government shutdown after the Senate came close but failed to reach a deal on a stopgap spending bill last week.
Analysts expect Congress to conclude weeks-long negotiations before the end of fiscal 2016 on Friday, as there is no political benefit to shuttering the federal government just before an election, particularly for Senate Republican leaders whose hold on the majority is one of the election's major questions.
"They are quickly running out of time to get this done, and the issues they face are small issues compared with the overall effect of a government shutdown," said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"I think the likely case and the optimistic case are that legislators are running out the clock to gain leverage on these small issues, but they will eventually reach a compromise," Harrison said.
"For both sides, a shutdown just before an election would create a huge amount of uncertainty and there is more downside for incumbents," Harrison said. "I don't think anyone wants this to happen, and its within their control to make it not happen."
Amid talks with Senate Democrats, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced a continuing resolution last Thursday that would keep the government open through Dec. 9, but it was quickly rejected by the Senate's top Democratic appropriator in a floor speech.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, calling the legislation a "Republican-only bill," urged her caucus to oppose it because it lacks aid to address a water contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., and because it includes a campaign finance policy rider. The Maryland Democrat called negotiations "a work in progress," and said, "Let's get back to work."
A vote was set for Tuesday on the bill, which includes a $1.1 billion in funding to fight the disease Zika, $500 million in Louisiana flood relief and full fiscal 2017 funding for military construction and veterans. McConnell called it a "clean" CR, as it is mostly free of policy riders.
For defense, the proposed continuing resolution expressly bars the Pentagon from starting new programs or entering into multiyear buys. The bill also extends authority that otherwise expires for the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, and it continues authority for military sealift provided by 60 commercial ships.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the bill was "not perfect," but it would "keep the government open for business in the short term, avoiding a damaging shutdown, while Congress continues the necessary work on the annual appropriations bills."
Though some House Republicans say they would prefer a CR that extends into 2017, that's presumably a non-starter for President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Both have no incentive to sign such a measure because they would lose all leverage with Congress for a budget deal, Harrison said.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.