Lawmakers face a Friday at midnight deadline when government funding is set to expire – and the House and Senate will likely have to pass a short-term extension to avert a shutdown at the end of the week, which would give negotiators more time to try to secure a broader full-year funding deal.
The other major legislative item lawmakers are working to wrap up before the end of the year is the National Defense Authorization Act, the massive annual must-pass defense policy bill. The NDAA is expected to get a vote in the Senate this week and be approved with bipartisan support.
The House has already approved the measure so once the Senate votes to pass it, the bill can go to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.
The approaching deadline had members of Congress and their staffers from both parties, as well as Biden administration officials, continuing to slog through negotiations over the weekend to try to get to an agreement on a spending package.
“This is the time of the year when there’s no weekends for folks who work on appropriations,” one administration official closely involved in the talks told CNN.
Over the weekend, both Democrats and Republicans were sharing with one another their “bottom lines” on various fronts, and the White House remained publicly optimistic that an agreement could be reached on an omnibus: “There is absolutely still a path and time for a deal.”
But if Biden administration officials are still keeping their eyes on the ball on Congress ultimately reaching a deal on a government spending deal, there is also real recognition that lawmakers will need an extra few days – perhaps even a week – of cushion to buy themselves more time. That would be achieved through passing a short-term stop-gap measure called a continuing resolution, or a CR.
Particularly with that in mind, administration officials also continue to maintain that they do not see any real likelihood of a government shutdown.
Congressional aides acknowledged to CNN that the weekend talks went better than days prior, which is why Democrats have announced they will not introduce their own Democratic-only omnibus plan on Monday. Republicans on Capitol Hill had been reading a threat for Democrats to introduce their own bills as a messaging exercise that would only further divide negotiators, and by avoiding that messaging exercise, Republicans see a sign that Democrats are serious about trying to get to yes.
$26 billion apart, top Republican says
For now, a bipartisan deal on government funding remains elusive. Lawmakers have not yet been able to reach a negotiated agreement for a comprehensive, full-year funding package – known on Capitol Hill as an omnibus – amid a dispute between the two parties over how much money should be spent on non-defense, domestic priorities. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has told reporters the two sides are roughly $26 billion apart.
Republicans are critical of recent domestic spending by Democrats and argue that measures Democrats have passed while they have been in control both chambers of Congress, like the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill and the sweeping health care and climate bill, are wasteful and will worsen inflation. Democrats counter by saying those measures were necessary to help the country recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic as well as to tackle other critical priorities. And Democrats said that money to respond to Covid, health care and climate should not mean there should be less money next year for government operations and non-defense, domestic spending.
The impasse over a broader funding deal is likely to force both sides to agree to pass a short-term funding extension – known as a continuing resolution, or CR – before the fast-approaching Friday deadline on Friday.
Shorter-term extension possible
The key question will be how long such an extension would last. It could be as short as one week, a timeframe that would keep the pressure dialed up for lawmakers to reach a broader deal, while still allowing more time for negotiations. Or it could extend the shutdown deadline into the next Congress, which will convene on January 3, and when Republicans take control of the House.
That change in majority in the House would dramatically alter the dynamic for negotiations and likely make it far harder to reach a broader funding deal. Lawmakers could pass a full-year CR if it looks like a bipartisan funding deal can’t be reached, but leaders in both parties hope to avoid that scenario since it would keep spending flat for the Pentagon as well as domestic priorities.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell laid out the GOP position in remarks on the Senate floor Thursday. “Our commander-in-chief and his party have spent huge sums on domestic priorities outside the normal appropriations process without a penny for the Defense Department. Obviously, we won’t allow them to now hijack the government funding process, too, and take our troops hostage for even more liberal spending,” McConnell said.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, outlined the argument for his party in his own floor remarks on Thursday. Republicans, Leahy said, are “demanding steep cuts to programs the American people rely on.”
Referring to Democratic-passed legislation that Republicans have criticized, Leahy said, “Those bills were meant to get us out of the pandemic, get the nation healthy, and get our economy back on track, and I believe they are accomplishing that goal. They were not meant to fund the basic functions of the American government in fiscal year 2023.”
Leahy also said that Democrats plan to introduce an omnibus bill of their own Monday – which would not be expected to have the Republican votes to pass in the Senate, but would serve as a marker of Democratic priorities in the funding fight.