- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2016

Congressional Republicans have officially punted on 2016, saying Thursday that they will pass a short-term spending bill to get them into the new year, when they are counting on majorities on Capitol Hill and a President Trump in the White House to make for smoother sailing.

After one government shutdown and several close calls under President Obama, Republicans insist those days are over and that and a unified government means they will no longer have fierce fights over health care, environmental regulations, immigration or Planned Parenthood — issues that threatened shutdowns during the past six years.

“Oh God, we’re not going to do that,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican. “If there is one thing that has been proven counterproductive, it’s that.”

But Democrats said Republicans will still have a tough time unifying, even when their party controls the executive and legislative branches of government.

“I think they’re making a big mistake for themselves. They’re going to have a kettle of fish in March that they can’t even imagine,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

The budget and spending process on Capitol Hill has been broken for years. Congress has failed to pass any of the dozen bills needed to keep basic government operations running, blowing past an Oct. 1 deadline that marked the beginning of the fiscal year.

Instead, agencies are running on stopgap funding that keeps spending at last year’s levels.

Lawmakers had vowed to come back after the election and pass a series of bills, but Republican leaders officially nixed that idea Thursday. They said they will pass another stopgap measure effective until the end of March, giving them time to work with a new president.

The hope, Republicans said, is that they will no longer have to try to use the spending process to roll back presidential actions, which could eliminate the major flashpoints of the past few years.

“I think we’re going to have a greater sense of joint priorities and more concern about spending generally,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. “Hopefully, it is one of the real opportunities that the next few months create for us.”

But how that plays out, and whether the government sinks deeper into deficits or takes a step toward the black, will depend in large part on Mr. Trump. Analysts said they are waiting for him to signal what his priorities will be.

“I don’t think anybody knows because nobody knows what the president-elect’s position is going to be on disciplining spending versus fiscal stimulus,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg, who served as chairman of the Budget Committee and is now co-chairman of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

Democrats blasted Republicans for giving up on congressional business for the year and called it “an absolute embarrassment.”

“The Republican majority failed to adopt a budget resolution, failed to pass appropriations bills in the House and Senate and failed to uphold their commitment to regular order. So it is not shocking, but is nonetheless outrageous, that they are punting on the entire process until the president-elect takes office, abandoning any semblance of competent governance,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said it made sense to give Mr. Trump a say.

“I think the new incoming government would like to have a say-so on how spending is to be allocated in 2017,” he said.

Both parties contributed to the failure this year.

Republican leaders couldn’t garner enough votes from conservatives, and Democrats objected to the way defense spending was built without a corresponding increase in domestic spending.

Opposition from both flanks left the middle too small to pass bills.

In the end, House Republicans gave initial approval to half of the dozen bills. The Senate cleared just two. No bills cleared both chambers in final form.

That has been par for the course. Under Mr. Obama, the best Congress managed was during his first year, when lawmakers passed half of the annual bills. The most they achieved in any other year was just one of the 12.

The White House budget office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Government debt exploded during Mr. Obama’s early years in office, when his party controlled the executive and legislative branches. It grew more steadily beginning in 2011, when Republicans took control of the House and forced Mr. Obama into debt negotiations that resulted in strict spending caps.

Divided government also produced major spending restrictions in the 1980s, in a 1990 budget deal between President George H.W. Bush and Democrats in Congress, and again in the 1997 budget deal between President Clinton and congressional Republicans. Analysts said unified governments have been less successful at controlling spending, though a 1993 agreement under Mr. Clinton and congressional Democrats did help curtail soaring deficits.

Analysts said it’s unclear what unified Republican control will mean over the next couple of years.

Michael Sargent, a researcher at The Heritage Foundation, said Congress will quickly confront tight spending caps — a $16 billion cut under current law — and the need to increase the debt limit.

He said there has been no resolution to the basic issue that has roiled Congress for years: Democrats who want to increase domestic spending, some Republicans who want to increase defense spending and other Republicans who want to adhere to the tight caps on both sides of the ledger.

“There’s bound to be some sort of fight on that because I don’t think Congress will take a $16 billion spending cut no matter who’s in power,” Mr. Sargent said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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