WASHINGTON — Even before Syria, Congress had a lot to get done in September and little time in which to do it.
Now lawmakers will return to Capitol Hill next week after five weeks away and be consumed with an issue that — 10 days ago — wasn't even part of an already full agenda, with the clock ticking quickly toward a possible government shutdown and debt default.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, noted that the House has only scheduled nine days of work in Washington this month and is planning to leave town for the last full week — days before funding for most government operations will run out.
“The idea that we're going to have nine legislative days and we're going to lose a week on something no one had even built into the equation — my expectation is that we'll be there a lot more,” Cole said.
“You can't have Congress out of town with a clock like that ticking.”
Cole and other members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation predicted that Congress would pass legislation to keep the government open in the short term so negotiations can continue on the federal budget. Cole said lawmakers could push the decisions into mid-December.
That would track with Congress' recent pattern of putting off major decisions until the holidays; in 2009, the Senate passed the health care reform law on Christmas Eve, and Congress last year waited until New Year's Eve to resolve a dispute over tax hikes.
Before President Barack Obama asked Congress to authorize a U.S. military strike in Syria, much of the talk at Oklahoma lawmakers' town hall meetings was about a tea party-backed effort to defund Obamacare in any legislation to keep the government running after Sept. 30.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, one of the main supporters of the effort, said in an interview that he didn't think the emergence of the Syria issue robbed the issue of momentum.
Bridenstine and Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, a member of the House Republican leadership team, said they expect a temporary funding resolution to include language delaying or defunding the health care law, though Lankford said it would be up to the House's top leaders to determine what approach is taken.
Despite pressure at town hall meetings last month to support the effort, most members of Oklahoma's delegation fear it would lead to a government shutdown, since the Democrat-controlled Senate wouldn't accept it.