Congress completed action on a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that kicks the federal budget decisions until December 16, after the midterm elections. When Congress returns to pass a bill to prevent a government shutdown, the atmosphere may be very different if, as many anticipate, Republicans win control of the next Congress, which begins on January 3, 2023.
One of the big questions Congress will need to face in December is whether to pass an Omnibus Spending Bill that funds the government through the new fiscal year until October 1, 2023; or, if Republicans capture one or both bodies, passing another short-term fix in order to let Republicans put their stamp on the new budget using the leverage they gain by controlling the House and/or Senate.
The devastation created by hurricane Ian will have some impact on the December CR as Republican members of the Florida and Carolina delegations will be under hometown pressure to approve the legislation, as it likely will contain emergency funds for the victims and hard hit communities.
A problem with a second short-term CR is that various departments of government, led by the Department of Defense, need new budgets for new programs which can most easily be achieved with an Omnibus Spending Bill rather than a CR. Republicans have a tough political call to make as to whether or not they want to fight more battles as soon as they gain control or have 9 months to start building a case for a Republican budget that can pass the House on a partisan vote and set up talks with the Senate. Much may depend on the size of a Republican majority and how tough new Speaker McCarthy believes it will be to keep his Republican Caucus together on key votes, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has done a remarkable job, keeping her Members together with a very narrow majority.
If the Republicans take control of the Senate, Leader McConnell will have the same problem Leader Schumer has faced trying to get 60 votes to pass the budget. If Republicans capture both chambers the House and Senate Republican leaders will be sending their budget bill to President Biden who can always veto the legislation. Democrats will be nowhere close to a super majority that could override a Presidential veto.
Control of the Senate remains very much too-close-to-call. During my career in politics, I prepared Senate candidates for debates, and the most important part of prep is making sure the candidate has well-rehearsed answers to the most likely questions and has a keen understanding of avoiding a major blunder by having some tried and true phrases to answer any question that might pose too much risk.
While it predates my political career, everyone who has participated in political debate prep knows the story of the first Presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The Kennedy team had studied every aspect of the first ever debate and their candidate not only had good answers to the questions, but just as importantly was dressed in an outfit that went well with the stage setting; perhaps a small detail but nearly every history of Presidential debates sites Kennedy’s appearance as central to building his momentum that eventually led to victory. Kennedy appeared younger and more dynamic when in fact Nixon was only four years older than JFK.
As a young aide, I remember the blunder Jerry Ford made in his debate against Jimmy Carter when he announced that Russia didn’t control Eastern Europe. President Ford, who had become President when Nixon resigned, was tagged early on as a lightweight and this freeing of Eastern Europe didn’t help his cause.
Here are a few of the dates to watch in close Senate races:
Pennsylvania: Lt. Governor John Fetterman has seen his wide lead over Dr. Oz shrink in recent weeks and perhaps the central issue hurting Fetterman is his health, and particularly his recovery from a stroke earlier in the year. One debate has been scheduled for October 25 and while Dr. Oz has proven to be less than a strong candidate, electing a Senator who has trouble speaking and processing their thoughts could be the end of the Fetterman campaign.
Georgia: Republican challenger football great Herschel Walker has had some pretty serious speaking gaffes during the campaign, and some question his ability to be a successful Senator. Democratic incumbent Senator Raphael Warnock is a minister who knows how to communicate and now has two years of experience speaking on the Senate floor. If Walker wants to continue his climb in the polls a good debate will help his cause. Their debate is scheduled for October 14.
Ohio: While some voters express the view that they like the idea of a non-politician running for office, the fact is that a candidate who has run for office before can have an advantage when a big debate happens – they’ve done it before. In Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan is running against venture capitalist and author JD Vance. While Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” may not have been in a political debate he has experience speaking, as he has been on tours promoting his book. Polls show this race very close and supporters of both candidates will have fingers crossed that their guy doesn’t make a big mistake. Two debates are planned on October 10 and 17.
North Carolina: Polls show the Senate race to replace retiring Republican Richard Burr to be close and within the margin of error. NC has a changing political base as more Northerners and young people are moving into the state as its high-tech industry grows around the Research Triangle and top universities. The Democrat is Cheri Beasley who served as the Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court and the Republican is Representative Ted Budd. With some of the new voters who have moved into NC, the abortion issue appears to be resonating, and the economy remains strong in the state. Both have experience debating, but, like all candidates, they will need to avoid a blunder that becomes part of a negative commercial that hurts the campaign. Both candidates have agreed to a debate on October 7.