WASHINGTON — Whether lawmakers attempt to pass 2017 federal spending measures before year's end or punt to next year depends on what President-elect Donald Trump wants to do, three top House appropriators said Monday.
Prior to the election, Congress had stalled on most 2017 appropriations measures, considering whether to pass "minibus" packages of spending legislation, a single, massive bill, or an extended continuing resolution. Congress returned Monday to a three-week lame duck session and the expiration of the current continuing resolution, Dec. 9.
Now some key lawmakers say they are willing to extend the continuing resolution beyond Jan. 1 and let Trump offer his own budget for the fiscal year that started Sept. 30. There is a pause until he signals his preference.
"We certainly are on hold, that's for sure," said House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen, who is favored to chair the full committee next year.
Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., said that while he preferred to conclude the year's work and give Trump a clean slate, "there's some thought that he should have a say in defense and other spending. So it's back and forth."
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., did not express a preference, but said that if House leadership wants the bills to proceed, "We're prepared to go. During this recess, we have been polishing up the bills, making some really good progress, so we will be prepared to go now or later, depending on where leadership wants to go."
Rep. Tom Cole, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, said he would defer to the president-elect but favors resolving spending in the lame duck. The next president will already have a packed agenda without pitching new 2017 appropriations legislation, he said.
Early next year, Trump will have to introduce a 2018 budget, contend with the expiring debt ceiling and perhaps make good on an election promise to repeal the Budget Control Act — which is unpopular in the GOP for limits it places on defense spending.
"The easier thing [for Congress] to do is punt, but it complicates things for next year," said Cole, R-Okla. "Having to deal with '17 budget because we didn't do our job doesn't make sense, but if [Trump] chose to do that, we should defer to him. I hope he'd say, 'You guys, finish your work, it would be easier for me to start with a clean slate.'"
One argument for proceeding is that Congress' hand is strengthened by the elections, said Cole, who has served as a Republican budget negotiator. Negotiations with Democrats had focused on GOP riders to reverse rules and executive orders—moot arguments with a Republican in the White House, the thinking goes.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy also favored completing Congress's work this year, but said Monday it was too soon to say what path it would take.
"Members are just coming back. I think there's still a possibility we could do minibuses," McCarthy said during a briefing with reporters. "The more work we get done, the better the country is for taking care of the issues in the next term."
Yet Rep. Dave Brat, a member of the Freedom Caucus on the House Budget Committee, said he wants to wait because Democrats will have an even weaker hand next year.
"We're going to do a budget with Obama at the table still, when you have both houses and the president coming in?" Brat said. "Seems to me you're better off if you don't do that."