Lawmakers should prepare for one-week funding stopgap as negotiations continue, Schumer
The House and Senate are expected to pass a short-term extension to avert a shutdown, which would give negotiators more time to try to secure a broader full-year funding deal.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Monday that senators should be prepared to take “quick action” on a one-week extension to give lawmakers more time to negotiate.
Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor that he anticipates “quick action” on a stopgap funding bill known as a continuing resolution, or CR for short, “so we can give appropriators more time to finish a full funding bill before the holidays.”
Budget negotiators must reach an agreement before their deadline or punt the decision to next year, when House Republicans take over. That could complicate the government’s ability to avert a shutdown as it would mean newly empowered House Republicans need to agree with 60 senators and Democratic President Joe Biden.
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 for government funding 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.”
Administration officials 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.
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.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that Democrats must drop their demands for additional spending on domestic programs in order to get a broad government funding bill passed before the holidays or risk passing a short-term bill into early next year after Republicans take control of the House and would be poised to demand even lower funding levels.
“Our Democratic colleagues have already spent two years massively – massively – increasing domestic spending using party line reconciliation bills outside the normal appropriations process,” McConnell said on the floor. “Clearly, our colleagues cannot now demand even more, more domestic spending than President Biden even requested in exchange for funding the United States military.”
“If House and Senate Democratic colleagues can accept these realities in the very near future, we may still have a shot at assembling a full-year funding bill that will give our military commanders the certainty they need to invest, plan and stay competitive with rivals like China. If our Democratic colleagues can’t accept those realities, the option will be a short term bipartisan funding bill into early next year,” 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.”
While lawmakers continue to negotiate, the federal government has begun the process of preparing for a potential shutdown, participating in the mandatory but standard process of releasing shutdown guidance to agencies ahead of Friday’s funding deadline.
Officials have emphasized that there is no real likelihood of a government shutdown, but the standard procedure laying out the steps toward bringing non-essential government functions to a halt is underway.
“One week prior to the expiration of appropriations bills, regardless of whether the enactment of appropriations appears imminent, OMB will communicate with agency senior officials to remind agencies of their responsibilities to review and update orderly shutdown plans, and will share a draft communication template to notify employees of the status of appropriations,” a document from the Office of Management and Budget stated.
That standard guidance was circulated last Friday, marking seven days before a shutdown could occur absent Congressional action.
Every department and agency has its own set of plans and procedures. Those plans include information on how many employees would get furloughed, what employees are essential and would work without pay (for example, air traffic controllers, Secret Service agents, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory staff), how long it would take to wind down operations in the hours before a shutdown, and what activities would come to a halt.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
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