Disaster aid issue clouds appropriations conference

House-Senate conference committee talks are continuing behind closed doors this week on a spending minibus that includes funding for agriculture, commerce, justice, transportation and housing.

Appropriators want to add the Homeland Security bill to the minibus, but grumbling from conservative Republican Study Committee members is holding up that plan, aides said.

The RSC members are angry that the summer’s debt-ceiling deal allows federal spending to rise $11 billion over the deficit cap of $1.043 trillion for 2012.

Their willingness to vote against any minibus containing the Senate Homeland Security bill’s extra disaster funding would create a headache for leadership, which does not want to see a government shutdown crisis before Nov. 18, when the current temporary funding bill runs out. 

The first minibus is to contain a temporary spending bill funding the government through most of December.

Aides say the minibus conference is still on track to wrap up early next week, in time to set up a vote by the end of next week.

The Senate, meanwhile, is set to take up a second “minibus” package of appropriations bills on Thursday.

The minibus will include the energy and water, state and foreign operations and financial services titles.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture on a motion to proceed to the bill on Tuesday night.

The Senate has passed just four of the 12 annual appropriations bills for 2012, more than a month after the fiscal year began on Oct. 1. The second minibus would bring the total to seven, leaving the controversial labor, health and environment titles, which are loaded with policy riders, to be packaged with the must-pass Department of Defense bill.