HomePoliticsMilking the clock: in football, soccer and congress

Milking the clock: in football, soccer and congress

Signed only by the Rams last week, Mayfield stunned the soccer world, leading Los Angeles to two touchdowns in the final three minutes and 19 seconds left in a game against the Los Vegas Raiders. Mayfield fired the game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass to Van Jefferson with just 10 seconds left on the clock.

The Raiders led 16-3 with 3:20 to play. But Las Vegas ended up losing 17-16. NFL teams went 70-2 this season when leading by 13 points or more with five minutes remaining. Mayfield drove the Rams an astounding 98 winning yards, the longest scoring drive under two minutes in 45 years.

The end result: you play until the clock expires.

So what does this have to do with Congress?

Like Mayfield and the Rams, the Lawmakers also play to the wire.

The government is funded until 11:59:59 pm and Friday night. If Congress doesn’t act, the government shuts down.

A triple shot of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield.
(Associated Press)

Congress was supposed to fully fund the government for the entire fiscal year (ie, through September 30, 2023) by October 1 of this year. But now it is typical for Congress to skip that deadline and pass some kind of stopgap spending measure to fund the government beyond the October 1 deadline. That’s exactly what lawmakers did this year. “Last year,” Congress did not fully fund the government until March, missing the October 1, 2021 deadline.


So the new de facto deadline for Congress to avoid the government shutdown is this Friday at 11:59:59 p.m. And Congress will not only play the clock, it will also extend the game.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was unhappy with the pace of negotiations on what is being called an “omnibus” spending bill. That package would unite the 12 individual appropriations measures into one gigantic package, provide new money for each department and fund the government until next September. So Leahy threatened to put together his own version of the bill and publish it on Monday.

Then the pace of negotiations picked up.

So, Leahy decided to retire for a few days. It’s nearly impossible for lawmakers to put together a gigantic spending package to run the entire government between now and Friday. That’s why the game technically won’t end this Friday.

Enough of Baker Mayfield. Let’s mix football with football.

Soccer games are supposed to last 90 minutes. But, as you’ve seen at the World Cup, the referees add between one and nine minutes of “extra time” at the end of each half. The same will happen this week at the Capitol. Since “90 minutes” wasn’t enough to play the game and fund the government, Congress will earn itself a bit of “discount time.” The House and Senate will pass a short-term stopgap spending bill to avoid a shutdown this week, and will try to get everything done just before Christmas at the end of next week.

Congress will continue to play until the end of the game. They just added in injury time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on CBS' "Face the Nation."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
(CBS News/Screenshot)

Legislators typically do this with what is called a “Continuing Resolution” or “CR.” A CR simply renews all the old funds at the same levels. Nothing new. Nothing to adjust for inflation. Takes the government funding for the previous year and raises it again for a brief period.

The Pentagon hates this approach. The military consumes about 55 percent of all the dollars Congress appropriates annually. So the longer the CR, the worse it is for the military. The Pentagon bears the brunt of Band-Aid bills because it gets the bulk of the dollars from Congress.

A CR is fundamentally different from an omnibus bill. An omnibus measure provides new money for all departments and programs. It simply lumps the 12 annual appropriations bills into one massive legislative group.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has hinted that he wants a CR in the short term. Not one that runs until just before Christmas in anticipation of a larger spending package. but a slightly longer CR. One that finances the government until the beginning of January or February. McCarthy points out that Republicans will control the House in January. So why shouldn’t everyone bet on letting a Republican-controlled House get its thumbs up on the spending then?

Democrats and President Biden obviously prefer a longer-term omnibus. An omnibus allows Democrats to make their mark on federal spending until the fall, without giving ground to the Republican Party.

But here’s the dirty little secret in Washington: Although McCarthy and the Republicans say publicly they want a short-term bill, they really don’t want it. McCarthy is fighting to control the votes to become president. And with a possible 222-212 Republican majority next year (with one vacancy), Republicans can only lose four votes on their side and still pass a bill.


With such a tight turning radius, House Republicans will scramble to pass almost anything, let alone something as controversial as a major government funding bill. An even bigger challenge is aligning a conservative House bill with a Democratic-controlled Senate measure. That’s not to mention merging those bills into something President Biden will sign.

That’s why Republicans would rather complain publicly about the spending bill, but privately hope all this gets resolved while Democrats are still in charge.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., says “appropriators held positive negotiations” over the weekend. He says lawmakers should be prepared to “take quick action” in a “CR of a week.”

That gives lawmakers about nine days to come up with the most comprehensive general spending package.

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 6: From left, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., attend the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, December 6, 2022. The medals were awarded in recognition of those who protected the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.

UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 6: From left, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., attend the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, December 6, 2022. The medals were awarded in recognition of those who protected the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.
(Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Congress can also make a provision in the omnibus bill to prevent “hijacking.” That’s a budget control device that requires automatic spending cuts every year. The sequestration is a holdover from the 2011 debt ceiling deal.

The cuts are blunt and transversal.

But Congress usually disables sequestration, adding language to a big spending bill like this one. The reason? Although some fiscal hawks may embrace the cuts, the sequestration hits too hard at programs and spending that lawmakers from both parties like.


So how much time on the clock? It depends on the timekeeper. This Friday night. Next week. Potentially even the week after that. Right up to 11:59:59 am on January 3rd. That’s when the current Congress wins.

Baker Mayfield milked the clock for every available second in last week’s win over the Raiders.

Congress will likely do the same.

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