WASHINGTON — Congress had only one major piece of legislation to pass when members returned for the fall: a bill keeping the government doors open. But with a deadline looming late Friday, members are down to the wire to avoid a shutdown.
Most in Congress assumed they would have government funding wrapped up last week, allowing more members an extra week of campaigning time ahead of the November elections. That has not happened, and the House and Senate added to the docket a vote on overriding President Obama's veto of a bill that allows the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia. It would be the first veto override in the Obama era.
Still, the most pressing — and difficult — legislation is a bid to fund the government through the elections. The U.S. Senate rejected a short-term funding bill supported by the GOP on Tuesday afternoon, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voting against his party's leaders.
For the past several years, Congress and the president have been unable to square away a full-year budget by the fiscal deadline of Sept. 30, leading to the two branches settling on a short-term funding bill that will keep the government doors open through the election season.
Congress is expected to negotiate a long-term budget in November or December.
Making it past this annual deadline is rarely easy for Congress. These short-term fixes are similar to legislation that was at the root of the 2013 government shutdown and led to the ouster of former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner.
Still, members themselves are avoiding the word "shutdown" and are optimistic they will pass funding ahead of the deadline.
“Well, yes, my sense is we will" pass funding, said U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, a Lewisville Republican.
Senate Republicans are growing increasingly exasperated as Democrats demand funding to help the residents of Flint, Michigan, with the lead-contaminated water crisis there.
“I should think this would be a bipartisan issue,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, while debating a separate piece of legislation on the House floor Tuesday.
Whatever funding Congress passes, it is expected to include money to combat the Zika virus — also a sticking point in recent months.
Congress is likely to be more unified with another bill that is expected to move this week.
Earlier this year, both chambers cast a voice vote for legislation that would enable the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi Arabian government for the the 2001 attacks on New York City, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon.
But it is highly controversial legislation. Detractors, who include President Obama, worry the new law could used to sue American officials overseas. Furthermore, Saudi officials warned of economic retribution should the bill become law.
The president vetoed the bill on Friday.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is leading the charge to override that veto in the Senate, along with the likely Democratic leader next term, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican, issued a sharp statement on the matter Friday.
“It’s disappointing the President chose to veto legislation unanimously passed by Congress and overwhelmingly supported by the American people,” he wrote. “Even more disappointing is the President’s refusal to listen to the families of the victims taken from us on September 11th, who should have the chance to hold those behind the deadliest terrorist attack in American history accountable.”
“I look forward to the opportunity for Congress to override the President’s veto, provide these families with the chance to seek the justice they deserve, and send a clear message that we will not tolerate those who finance terrorism in the United States.”
Most congressional observers expect both chambers to override the president.
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