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Milking the Clock — In Football, Futball, and Congress

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

The Raiders led 16-3 with 3:20 to play. But Las Vegas wound 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 a staggering 98 yards to win – the longest scoring drive inside of two minutes in the past 45 years. 

The bottom line: you play until the clock expires.

So, what does this have to do with Congress?

Like Mayfield and the Rams, lawmakers play until the final gun as well.

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

A trifold photo 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 (meaning through September 30, 2023) by October 1 this year. But it’s now typical for Congress to blow that deadline and approve some form of an interim spending measure to fund the government past the October 1 deadline. That’s exactly what lawmakers did this year. “Last year,” Congress didn’t fully fund the government until March – blowing the October 1, 2021, deadline. 


So, the new, de facto deadline for Congress to avoid a government shutdown is this Friday at 11:59:59 pm et. And Congress will not only play out the clock – but also extend the game.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was disgruntled at the pace of negotiations on what’s termed an “omnibus” spending bill. That package would weave together all 12 of the individual appropriations measures into one, gigantic package, provide new money for each department and fund the government through next September. So Leahy threatened to assemble his own version of the bill and release it Monday.

Then, the pace of negotiations picked up. 

So, Leahy elected to stand down for a few days. It’s nearly impossible for lawmakers to assemble a gargantuan spending package to run the entire government between now and Friday. That’s why the game won’t technically end this Friday.

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

Soccer games are supposed to last for 90 minutes. But, as you’ve seen in the World Cup, referees tack on anywhere from one to nine minutes of “stoppage time” at the end of each half. The same will happen this week on Capitol Hill. Since “90 minutes” wasn’t long enough to play the game to fund the government, Congress will buy itself a bit of “stoppage time.” The House and Senate will approve a short-term, interim spending bill to avoid a shutdown this week – and try to get everything wrapped up just before Christmas late next week. 

Congress will continue to play to the end of the game. They just added on stoppage time.

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

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

Lawmakers routinely do this with what’s called a “Continuing Resolution” or “CR.” A CR simply renews all old funding at the same levels. Nothing new. Nothing to adjust for inflation. It takes the government funding for the old year and re-ups it for a brief period.

The Pentagon abhors this approach. The military consumes about 55 percent of all dollars Congress appropriates annually. So, the longer the CR, the worse it is for the military. The Pentagon gets hit the hardest with Band-Aid bills because it scores the largest chunk of Congressional dollars.

A CR is fundamentally different from an omnibus bill. An omnibus measure provides new money for all departments and programs. It just bundles together the 12 annual appropriations bills into a massive legislative clump. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., intimated that he wants a short-term CR. Not one which runs until just before Christmas in anticipation of a broader spending package. But a slightly longer CR. One which funds the government into early January or February. McCarthy notes that Republicans will control the House in January. So why shouldn’t everyone punt to allow a Republican-controlled House to put its imprimatur on spending then? 

Democrats and President Biden obviously prefer a longer term omnibus. An omnibus allows Democrats to leave their mark on federal spending through the fall – not ceding any ground to the GOP.

But here’s the dirty little secret in Washington: Even though McCarthy and Republicans publicly say they want a short-term bill, they really don’t. McCarthy is struggling to command the votes to become Speaker. And with a prospective 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 narrow turning radius, House Republicans will scramble to pass much of anything – let alone something as controversial as a major government funding bill. An even greater challenge is aligning a conservative bill from the House with a measure from the Democratically-controlled Senate. That’s to say nothing of merging those bills into something President Biden will sign. 

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

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., says “appropriators held positive” negotiations over the weekend. He says lawmakers should be prepared to “take quick action” on a “one week CR.” 

That gives lawmakers about nine days to work out the broader, omnibus spending package. 

UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 6: From left, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.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, D-N.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 may also prepare a provision in the omnibus bill to avert “sequestration.” That’s a budget control device which requires automatic spending cuts every year. Sequestration is a leftover from the debt ceiling agreement of 2011.

The cuts are blunt and across the board.

But Congress usually switches off sequestration – attaching language to a big spending bill like this one. The reason? Even though some fiscal hawks may embrace the cuts, sequestration cuts too deeply into programs and spending that lawmakers of 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 until 11:59:59 am et, on January 3. That’s when the current Congress expires.

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

Congress will likely do the same. 

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