Confident of a Hillary Clinton victory in November, Senate Democrats are trying to set her up for a fresh start in January by demanding that lawmakers settle the spending fight by December. Both parties agree that they’ll have to approve a stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, sometime this month. Conservatives want that bill to carry into 2017 because they are opposed to Congress making any big decisions in a lame-duck session after the elections when lawmakers are rushed and less accountable to voters. “Policies that come through in a lame-duck are typically not conservative or good,” said Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action. Conservatives feel particularly burned by what happened a year ago, when under new House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican leaders pushed through major tax-and-spending bill that they hammered out with the Democrats.
Democrats, however, are already warning that the conservative no-lame-duck position won’t fly—neither they nor the White House will support a continuing resolution that goes past December. “We are not doing anything into next year. The Republicans should be made aware of that right now,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on Thursday. For good measure, he added that he had spoken to Obama and that the two were in agreement on their ultimatum.
Republican leaders have been noncommittal on the question, unwilling to get ahead of their members and risk a blow-up when they return to the Capitol. Spokesmen for Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the timing of the continuing resolution would be up for discussion this week.
Given their political position at the moment, Democrats are actually trading away some potential power by insisting that Congress pass a major spending bill while Republicans remain in the majority. If they waited until January and then won control of the Senate in November, they would be better positioned decide how federal dollars should be spent. (The overall spending level is already determined thanks to a two-year budget agreement that Congress approved last year.) But Democrats have a lot of other priorities that they’d want to focus on if they control the Senate beginning in January. Presumably, they will first want to approve whomever Clinton nominates to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, and they’ll be busy confirming hundreds of Clinton appointees to top government jobs—not to mention advancing the new president’s top legislative agenda items. Fighting over a delayed spending bill would simply get in the way.
The one issue that can’t wait is funding to fight Zika, but even that is mired in a partisan tempest. The Senate is expected to vote again on a $1.1 billion measure on Tuesday, but Democrats plan to block it over provisions restricting funding to Planned Parenthood. The same bill failed in July, but Democrats hope that Republicans will agree to compromise once they see it can’t pass. CDC Director Thomas Frieden has warned that the federal government is running out of the $222 million it had to combat the virus’s spread just as new cases are popping up in south Florida. “The cupboard is bare,” Frieden told reporters last week.