House Democrats brace for short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown

House Democrats brace for short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers are preparing for the possibility of a short-term spending patch to avoid a government shutdown next month.

While Congress passed a budget deal last month to establish top-line spending numbers, lawmakers have yet to finalize appropriations bills that actually fund the federal government.

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Since the House and Senate don't return from the August recess until Sept. 9, that leaves just three full legislative workweeks for lawmakers to reach an agreement on spending bills for the entire government before funding runs out on Sept. 30.

Given the limited time frame to reconcile both chambers' appropriations bills, lawmakers are eyeing the likelihood of a short-term spending patch known as a continuing resolution (CR).

"While the House has acted and wants to go to conference with the Senate on appropriations bills as soon as possible, there is a possibility that we will need a short-term CR to provide time for the Senate to do its work," said Mariel Saez, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Democrat accuses GOP of opposing DC statehood because of 'race and partisanship' News outlets choose their darlings, ignore others' voices MORE (D-Md.).

"Mr. Hoyer continues to urge the Senate to mark up and pass their bills as quickly as possible so that we can go to conference and pass legislation to fund the government and prevent a shutdown," Saez added.

A second Democratic aide said that "it's our expectation" a short-term spending bill will be needed, likely into early December or potentially late November. One date floated was Dec. 6, which is the first Friday of December.

Hoyer also suggested Nov. 22 as an earlier end date for a stopgap measure during a caucus-wide conference call with House Democrats on Friday.

The House is currently scheduled to adjourn for the year on Dec. 12.

Congress has to pass 12 annual funding bills, which are often enacted in smaller packages or in one massive piece of legislation known as an omnibus.

The House passed its versions of 10 out of the 12 bills in June. But the Senate has yet to take up any spending bills after leaving its appropriations process on hold while the White House and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTimeline: The Trump whistleblower complaint DC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Ukraine could badly damage both Donald Trump and the Democrats MORE (D-Calif.) negotiated the two-year budget pact.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to hold its first committee markups of spending bills on Sept. 12, which is during the chamber's first week back from the summer recess.

Senate Republicans have been considering combining three spending bills — defense, health and human services, and energy and water development — into one package to consider on the floor next month since they would make up a majority of total spending.

“If we did that, that would be over 70 percent of the expenditure,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMcConnell support for election security funds leaves Dems declaring victory Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November MORE (R-Ala.) said last month. “That would be progress big time.”

The budget deal that Trump signed into law earlier this month raises spending by more than $320 billion and suspends the debt ceiling through July 2021.

House appropriators will also have to adjust their spending bills to adhere to the bipartisan budget deal enacted last month. House Democrats passed their 10 spending bills on the floor — encompassing all agencies except for the Department of Homeland Security and legislative branch operations — before the budget deal was reached.