Congress moves toward six-month stopgap to keep government funded

Senior House and Senate leaders voiced optimism that they could reach agreement on a stopgap spending measure that would prevent a government shutdown shortly before the November election.

Congress has more than two months to figure out how to fund the government this fall, but because lawmakers are only in session for less than three weeks during that time, discussions about a continuing resolution have heated up in recent days. The Senate has made little progress passing annual appropriations bills, necessitating a stopgap measure to keep the government’s lights on through the November election.

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The key issue has been the length of a stopgap, and both sides appeared to be moving toward a six-month bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday talks were occurring “at a high level” and had been “very productive.” Reid also suggested that he would support a continuing resolution that would extend into 2013, aligning him with House conservatives who have pushed their leadership for a six-month bill. “It would be to my preference that we do something that would alleviate this being an issue that we have during the lame duck,” Reid said.

“I am hopeful and confident we can reach a conclusion in the near future,” he added.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a separate news conference that no decisions had been made on the length of the continuing resolution.

“We’re considering lots of options when it comes to the [continuing resolution]. We don’t really have anything to announced at this point,” Boehner told reporters during his weekly press conference. “We’re going to come to an agreement, I would hope, with our colleagues in the Senate to try to make sure that the government is funded and that there’s no opportunity for games to be played, and when we have something to announce, we’ll be happy to do it.”

House conservatives met with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday, where they urged him to back a six-month spending bill that would extend past a lame-duck session in November and into 2013. Conservatives have voiced worries that Democrats would try to bait them into a government shutdown fight in the middle of the campaign, and they don’t want the issue to be used as leverage in talks over a broader range of expiring provisions during the lame duck. Kicking major spending decisions into 2013 could also allow them to be made by a new Republican president and Senate if the party is successful in November.

Yet senior House GOP appropriators favor a three-month continuing resolution that would force Congress to tackle the issue again before the end of the year.

— Bernie Becker and Erik Wasson contributed.

— This story was updated at 3:20 p.m.