WASHINGTON – Congress faces a long list of legislation when it reconvenes this week, including further negotiations on the stalled fiscal 2001 budget, but without a president-elect, legislators do not expect to get much done.
Many local politicians and analysts said the most they expect from the lame-duck Congress is agreement on another continuing resolution that would keep the government running at old budget levels.
“Uncertainty means it’s unlikely we’ll get anything done,” said Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore. “It’s very hard to get anything done besides a continuing resolution and that’s unfortunate.”
And it is unlikely that Congress can push off a budget decision with a continuing resolution that would keep the government operating until after a new president is sworn in. President Clinton would probably veto such a resolution, Hill staffers said.
“The primary objector is the president, for obvious reasons,” said Sue Harvey, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.
Without either a budget or a continuing resolution, the federal government would be forced to shut down. The current continuing resolution is set to expire Tuesday.
Federal workers are not yet worried about a possible shutdown, said Beth Moten, legislative director for the American Federation of Government Employees. She said the union is aware of shutdown threats, but “it is too soon to tell if they are real.”
She said a shutdown would be “extremely damaging to the programs the federal government administers and the workforce that delivers them,” but that the union has not begun to prepare because the union has not “had a lot of anxious calls from Capitol Hill.”
Congress, which was originally scheduled to adjourn Oct. 6, still has five of 13 appropriation bills waiting for approval, on top of a stack of other disputed bills left from before Election Day.
When they could not agree on a budget last month, lawmakers put off a decision with a three-week continuing resolution — which was supposed to leave plenty of time for a new president to be elected. With the president-elect yet to be announced, it is unlikely that Congress will suddenly come to agreement when it returns, Harvey said.
“There’s a very good chance nothing will happen next week because the presidential election is not over,” she said.
Rep. Robert Ehrlich Jr., R-Timonium, agreed that there probably would not be progress on the appropriations bills until the presidential election is settled.
“Neither side is willing to give in to the other because they will be either strengthened or weakened,” Ehrlich said. “If Bush wins, there will be less spending. If Gore wins, there will be more spending.”
But Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, said he hopes “everyone is in the mood to compromise.”
Gilchrest said that the uncertainty over the next president will only “have an effect on some people who are more politically ideological” and he expects everyone else to try to work through the issues.
Towson University political science professor Griff Hathaway said that legislators may actually be more willing to vote on a budget now that the elections are over, because there is “less risk of voter backlash.”
Hathaway also said he thinks this Congress will avoid another continuing resolution, because that would make it look bad on the way out.
“When you pass a CR (continuing resolution), what Congress is saying is `We can’t get our act together,'” Hathaway said. “The 106th Congress was so pathetic, it couldn’t even get bills passed.
“I don’t think they want to go out like that,” he said. “My sense is that (a continuing resolution) won’t happen and they’ll transcend their partisan bickering.”