WASHINGTON – Congressional leaders are considering punting much of the remaining budget work of Congress to next year.
At issue are the annual spending bills funding the day-to-day operations of the government. The Sept. 30 end of the budget year is rapidly approaching but the appropriations bills are far behind schedule.
GOP aides say House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio supports the idea of a six-month stopgap spending bill that would pile the stack of unfinished business into the lap of the next Congress and whoever wins the White House in November.
The other option would be to pass a shorter-term measure and revisit the budget debate in a lame duck session. That would require assembling a foot-tall omnibus measure that's sure to be unpopular with tea party Republicans.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker has yet to decide a course of action and declined to confirm Boehner's preference for a longer-term stopgap measure. Members of the Appropriations Committee are generally against the idea after putting in such long hours drafting and debating the 12 annual spending bills.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Thursday that "very productive" talks about the issue have been going on between the House and Senate. He said he believed a conclusion would be reached soon but he provided no details.
"It would be my preference that we do something that would alleviate this being an issue that we have during the lame duck" session of Congress after the elections, or during the weeks before the elections, Reid said.
The agenda for the lame duck session is already piling high. It includes dealing with expiring tax cuts and looming across-the-board cuts to the Pentagon and a variety of domestic programs.
"Why add to the pile-up in the lame duck?" said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "That makes no sense to me."
"I don't know that that's been decided yet," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. "But to me it makes sense. Because then you've got some certainty out there at least on that piece. We're going to have so many big issues that have been pushed off."
Democrats are open to the idea. No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters Wednesday he could get behind such a plan.
Conservatives are among those supporting punting the spending bills. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Conference, said that an omnibus measure would be an inviting target for leaders and lawmakers to stack on additional, unrelated provisions. But he added that Republicans hope for a better outcome next year if Mitt Romney claims the White House and Republicans retake the Senate.
"I'd much rather have this come due on March 31st with a President Romney and a Republican Senate than I would in a lame duck still dealing with President Obama and (Democratic Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid,: Jordan said.
The GOP aides required anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.