Congress

3 deadlines loom over a Congress in disarray

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. arriving for a House GOP meeting Friday. The pressure is on Ryan to run for House speaker in the chaotic aftermath of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's sudden decision to abandon his campaign for the post.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. arriving for a House GOP meeting Friday. The pressure is on Ryan to run for House speaker in the chaotic aftermath of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's sudden decision to abandon his campaign for the post. AP

No one Friday knew what the Republican leadership chaos would mean. But Congress is facing three major decisions, and while the White House and members of the House expressed optimism they would not be derailed by the lack of Republican unity on who the next speaker will be, the leadership drama added to anxiety.

“We have a speaker in place, a leader in place. All the positions are filled right now. We are functioning the way Congress is intended,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

Here’re are the three deadlines that loom in the next two months.

OCT. 29 – Dead end for highways?

In July, Congress approved a three-month, $8 billion funding extension to keep federal highway funds flowing to the states. It was just the latest in a patchwork of short-term measures that have funded the highway program for the last six years. It’s been a decade since Congress approved a long-term highway bill.

The latest extension is set to expire Oct. 29, and finding a way to pay for these programs was expected to be addressed before outgoing House Speaker John Boehner’s original last day on Oct. 30. He will now stay on until his replacement is chosen.

If Congress doesn’t find a way to pay for the highway trust fund by the deadline, thousands of Federal Highway Administration employees could be furloughed and road construction would grind to a halt as the payments to states for their roads, bridges and transit projects could stop the very next day.

NOV. 5 – Hitting the debt ceiling?

Unless Congress acts, the Treasury will run out of money to pay the nation’s bills in just a few weeks, which could cause the U.S. to default on its obligations for the first time in its history and would likely send financial markets into panic mode.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said last week that Congress must raise the debt limit by Nov. 5, which will be the date he estimates that the treasury will run out of the extraordinary measures it’s using to keep the cash flowing.

Republican lawmakers on Friday said they would not let uncertainty about who will win the House Republican caucus’ nomination for speaker get in the way of doing their jobs on a tight deadline.

“We can’t let this cause any chaos. We’ve got to lead,” said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas. “There is nobody who wants to disturb the capital markets or the economy of this country.”

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich, agreed, but said there are some “very tough votes ahead,” including the debt ceiling.

Republican White House hopefuls Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida have been vocal critics of raising the debt ceiling.

DEC. 11 – Another shutdown crisis?

Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown crisis last month through a continuing resolution that keeps the government funded until Dec. 11.

The biggest budget dispute involves how to handle the sequester, or automatic spending cuts. President Barack Obama had proposed a 7 percent spending increase, divided between defense and domestic programs. Republicans are eager to go above the sequester on defense, but are reluctant to break the domestic limits.

Boehner’s successor will have to brace for a complicated budget fight right out of the gate.

“Whether we can retrench ourselves before Dec. 11 and challenge this president is a bit of an open question right now,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

But Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., noted that budget negotiations are “well underway” despite the leadership chaos.

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

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