Senate considers making a short pre-election session even shorter

WASHINGTON — The Senate is preparing to head home earlier than planned this month in hopes of avoiding a pre-election showdown with House Republicans over legislation needed to keep the government from shutting down at the end of the month.

The most optimistic timeline could have senators finishing up their work by late next week, more than two weeks before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. Senate leaders are eager to get out of town so the 22 GOP senators up for re-election can return home to campaign ahead of the November election. A speedy resolution would also allow Senate leaders to try and force the House to accept whatever spending resolution can pass the Senate, potentially avoiding another ugly intra-party budget fight.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Wednesday that he is prepared next week to move a stopgap funding measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), that would keep the government open through Dec. 9. House conservatives have generally rejected that idea, arguing that negotiating a final year-end funding package during the post-election “lame-duck” session will lead to a massive package filled with higher spending and special interests handouts. They are advocating for passing a stop-gap bill this month that would last into next year, leaving final spending negotiations to a new Congress and president.

But National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., told reporters on Thursday that he thinks the Senate could easily attach $1.1 billion in funding to fight the spread of the Zika virus, another top priority, to McConnell’s proposed spending bill and pass the legislation by the end of next week.

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“[It’s a] very good suggestion.” Wicker said. “I think we have to ask ourselves what realistically can be accomplished between now and our departure for the election.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he is confident the Senate will reach an agreement on the plan to pair Zika funding with the CR but he was less optimistic about wrapping up by Sept. 16.

“I think our hope is we can take up the continuing resolution next week and pass it and send it to the House and that could take place by the end of next week,” Cornyn said. “It would take all of the stars aligning in a perfect way with no intervening influence.”

That idea frustrates House Conservatives who had hoped to have more influence over any stop-gap bill.

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“It certainly is a concern if we’re not going to be here and able to go back and forth,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. “Then it becomes an either-or situation and I don’t think any of us want a shutdown.”

Some conservatives have considered the possibility of accepting policy concessions in exchange for their votes on a CR. Members of the Republican Study Committee met Thursday to discuss options for a spending bill. Members discussed adding a provision that would delay plans for the U.S. government to give up control over a global nonprofit that oversees the internet domain system. The government is scheduled to relinquish control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on Oct. 1 and conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are pushing Congress to hold off on those plans.

RSC Chairman Bill Flores, R-Texas, said Thursday that he had been in talks with Cruz about the issue and they both support a delay. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., said RSC members discussed the ICANN provision as well as a measure that would would effectively halt the the resettlement of refugees from Iraq and Syria in the United States.

“There was some discussion about if we want to be effective during this time that that would be the kind of thing that would be considered,” Walker said. “I think there was some favorability to that.”

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The RSC is expected to pitch several options for a path forward on spending to the full House Republican Conference during a policy meeting scheduled for Friday morning.