Congress won’t be back from recess until September 8, but Senate Democrats believe there’s no time like the present to schedule budget talks to stave off “another manufactured crisis” that could lead to a government shutdown.
“There are less than two months left in the fiscal year, and we are deeply concerned by the fact that negotiations to craft a bipartisan budget agreement have not yet begun,” all 44 Senate Democrats, along with Independent Sens. Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME), said Tuesday in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
"With the end of the fiscal year looming, we urge you to immediately schedule bipartisan budget negotiations so that we can work together over the coming weeks to avoid another manufactured crisis,” they warned.
The missive ratchets up the pressure on McConnell -- who has vowed that the federal government won’t shutdown -- to take action, especially since there are only a handful of days in September where both chambers of Congress are in session.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has already mentioned that lawmakers might need to pass a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government’s doors open, though such a step might undercut McConnell’s strategy to show the GOP can govern effectively.
Congress has until September 30, the end of the fiscal year, to come up with a solution.
Banking on a short-term funding bill holds risks for the GOP. The measure could wind up being held hostage by more conservative members aiming to extract promises from leadership or push one of their pet social issues. That happened earlier this year when funding for the Homeland Security Department was tied to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
Democrats seem eager to get around such a potential roadblock early.
“We are ready and willing to work with you to produce a fair and balanced Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015,” the told McConnell. “Therefore, we respectfully request you schedule the first round of these important negotiations as soon as possible."
However, it seems their plea might be falling on deaf ears.
“We wrote back to the staffers who sent the letter and got ‘out of office’ replies from both,” according to McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.
“But it’s important to note that Congress is already engaged in negotiations: Under new leadership, the Appropriations Committee for the first time in nine years passed all appropriations bills -- most with Democrat support,” he said in a statement.
“But Democrats are refusing to allow a floor debate on the spending bills -- going so far as to filibuster a pay raise for the troops,” Stewart added.