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McConnell, Pelosi hunt for funding deal as shutdown deadline looms

Staffers for the top four congressional leaders sat down on Thursday to discuss funding the government amid signs of progress toward a spending deal.

A senior Democratic aide confirmed to The Hill that staffers for House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden coronavirus relief bill tests narrow Democratic majority Some Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerA Biden stumble on China? First Black secretary of Senate sworn in Republican Ohio Senate candidate calls on GOP rep to resign over impeachment vote MORE (N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthySome Republicans say proxy voting gives advantage to Democrats Wray says no evidence of 'antifa' involvement in Jan. 6 attack Republican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC MORE (R-Calif.) met Thursday.

The meeting comes as Congress has until Dec. 11 to fund the government and avoid a holiday shutdown reminiscent of 2018, when it shuttered for 35 days.

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White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsHow scientists saved Trump's FDA from politics Liberals howl after Democrats cave on witnesses Kinzinger calls for people with info on Trump to come forward MORE, who visited the Capitol on Wednesday, didn't rule out a shutdown, feeding speculation about whether President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE would be willing to sign a mammoth funding deal on his way out of power. He previously railed against omnibus bills, vowing to "never sign another bill like this again."

But McConnell and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyBlack Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy MORE (R-Ala.) indicated they believe the White House is supportive of an omnibus spending bill — which would include all 12 fiscal 2021 bills and fund the government through Sept. 30, 2021 — instead of a continuing resolution (CR) that would continue fiscal 2020 funding levels into early next year.

"It's our hope ... that we can come together on an omnibus and pass it," McConnell told reporters after Meadows joined Republicans for a closed-door lunch, adding that he believed that was also the "preference of the White House."

Shelby also met with Meadows this week, and spoke with Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTrump seeks to freeze .4 billion of programs in final week of presidency This week: Trump's grip on Hill allies faces test Trump signs .3T relief, spending package MORE (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

“We went over where we are as far as trying to put the omnibus together and we talked about some parameters between us and the House,” Shelby said about his talk with Meadows. “I thought our meeting was very positive."

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Lawmakers and the White House are discussing a $1.4 trillion bill that would fund the government until Oct. 1, 2021, which is the start of the 2022 fiscal year.

Shelby indicated that the border wall, a top priority for the president, came up during his conversation with Meadows but only in general terms.

"I mentioned what we had in the bill ... so in that regard not huge new initiatives," Shelby said.

Senate Republicans put $2 billion for the border wall in their bill and Shelby added on Wednesday that "I think that's what we're talking about right now."

McConnell has said he wants a deal on top-line numbers for all 12 funding bills, which would be included in an omnibus, by this week, though Shelby has indicated that he wants to return from the Thanksgiving recess with an agreement.

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Once lawmakers return on Nov. 30, they will have roughly 10 working days before the House is scheduled to leave until January.

"We've got time," Shelby warned. "But we've got to move."

The negotiations over how to fund the government are separate from stalled talks on a fifth coronavirus relief bill, though some Republicans have floated that they could be merged.

Leaders on both sides disclosed this week that there had been no private conversations between congressional Democrats and McConnell about a fifth coronavirus relief bill even as cases climb across the country and some cities and states are reimposing restrictions to try to curb the spread.

Two Democratic aides told The Hill that coronavirus relief was discussed during Thursday's meeting. Republicans, however, pushed back on claims that it was discussed, with a House GOP leadership aide saying "staff are doing the usual end-of-year assessment of expiring provisions that we do every year."

"For the first time, we're having some productive conversations in a while, because Leader McConnell has now said he will sit down and talk," Schumer told reporters in New York about coronavirus relief. 

—Updated at 4:54 p.m.