Senate eyes attempt to jump-start government funding bills

Senate eyes attempt to jump-start government funding bills
© Greg Nash

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyNegotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal Mnuchin: Negotiators no closer to coronavirus deal than a week ago MORE (R-Ala.) predicted on Wednesday that senators will try to bring stalled government funding bills up for a vote on the floor next week.

Shelby, speaking to reporters after a closed-door lunch, said there was a "good chance" that the Senate will bring up some of the less controversial funding bills.

“I’ve been told today that next week there’s a good chance we’ll be bringing some approps bills to the floor,” he said referring to the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government. "We hope the ones that we can pass." 

When pressed about who told him that, he demurred, saying he had been "told authoritatively." Asked if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNegotiators remain far apart on coronavirus deal as deadline looms States begin removing Capitol's Confederate statues on their own Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Ky.) had told him of the pending floor action, he added, "it's my understanding that's what's going to happen." 

A spokesman for McConnell declined to comment.  

But Shelby's remarks mark the first time he has suggested that the Senate will try to move more appropriations bills since Senate Democrats blocked a House-passed spending package in mid-September. 

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It's also a reversal from earlier Wednesday, when Shelby appeared unsure if they were going to be able to get some of the less controversial bills to the floor. 

"I talked to Sen. Leahy this morning, he's ready. I'm ready to move six to seven bills, you know, smaller bills. We've got to get the leadership on both sides to agree with us," Shelby told reporters.  

When asked what McConnell had told him about that strategy, he indicated that he and McConnell had wanted to move a defense funding bill first, but had run into Democratic opposition. 

Defense would not be part of the six or seven less-controversial bills being floated by Shelby and Leahy.  

Asked before the lunch if McConnell would let them move those spending bills if Democrats were blocking defense he added, "that's the question." 

Shelby and Leahy have been publicly talking up the need to try to move at least the less-controversial spending bills amid a stalemate with House Democrats over the border wall and border-related funding. 

Leahy told The Hill in September that he had pitched McConnell on the strategy. But pressed about how he responded, Leahy rolled his eyes and made a noncommittal noise.

“That’s a decision he has to make, but I think every Republican, every Democrat I’ve talked to says let’s bring them up,” he said of the noncontroversial bills at the time. 

The government is currently funded through Nov. 21. But talks about how to prevent a shutdown after that have hit a "slump," according to Shelby. 

The House and Senate need to work out a deal on the top-line spending numbers, known as 302(b)s and defuse a looming fight over funding for President TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE's border wall. 

Asked if there was value in moving bills to the Senate floor without the top-line agreement, Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and the Appropriations Committee, said "no." 

"If there are numbers that are agreed on and the chairman has two or three bills he wants to take the floor, I'm not arguing [against] that. But to get all of this done we have to have broad House, Senate agreement," he added. 

House Democrats are pledging that they won't pass final spending bills until there is an agreement on all 12 bills. 

“We communicate, but there’s no progress,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHelping our seniors before it's too late House approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic MORE (D-N.Y.) when asked about the status of the negotiations.

While the Senate debates how to move bills forward, the House is expecting to negotiate the final details of the spending deals outside the context of a formal conference committee, according to a Democratic House aide.

Niv Elis contributed to this article