Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms

Greg Nash

A top Senate Republican on Wednesday said Congress will likely need a stopgap bill amid a myriad of last-minute snags that are threatening quick passage of a mammoth spending bill to fund the government. 

Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass an omnibus, which would wrap all 12 fiscal 2021 bills into one, but Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) says he doesn’t think negotiators will make their deadline.

Shelby said Congress will need to make a decision on whether it needs a continuing resolution (CR) by Dec. 9, so that they can pass it by Dec. 11. He added that a stopgap was “where we’re headed at the moment.”

“Will we do it by the ninth? I’d like [to] but probably not. There’s some challenges that have got to be dealt with,” Shelby said regarding the broader government funding deal. “That’s ticking away fast now.”

If negotiators are close they could pass a CR for a matter of days or a week to give themselves time to finalize a deal. If they aren’t close, they would likely use a stopgap to fund the government until early next year and kick the can on the larger bill.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters that if they get close to the Dec. 11 deadline and “we’re not done yet we could do a short-term CR.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Thune’s counterpart, called a CR “extreme.”

“It’s better than nothing but that isn’t saying much,” he said.

Negotiators have insisted that they are close on a majority of the spending bill, which would fund the government through September 2021.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters on Wednesday that he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed that it would be ideal to get an agreement on a funding deal by the end of the weekend.

The growing chances for a CR come as omnibus negotiations have gotten bogged down in a myriad of perennial sticking points including a fight over Veterans Affairs health care funding, the border wall and money for Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention beds.

“There’s a lot of things that haven’t been resolved. I think we’ll get it done, but you never know around here. All of you have seen bad days,” Shelby said.

Lawmakers are also making a last-ditch effort to try to get some amount of coronavirus relief into the government funding deal.

In a potential sign of progress, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed a $908 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief framework as a starting place for negotiations with McConnell. 

“In the spirit of compromise we believe the bipartisan framework introduced by Senators yesterday should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement. 

A bipartisan group of more than a dozen lawmakers unveiled the framework on Tuesday. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a member of the group, said they hoped to have legislative text out by Monday. 

McConnell didn’t respond to a question about the rhetoric from Pelosi and Schumer on Wednesday. But Thune said it was “progress.” 

“Hopefully we’ll be able to find the common ground and maybe we can merge those. I mean I think that the bipartisan group has had a lot of success in you know winnowing the list of issues and coming up with a package that I think it’s, again it’s reasonable,” Thune said when asked about the GOP-only proposal from McConnell.

Updated 6:15 p.m.

Tags Chuck Schumer Dick Durbin government funding Joe Manchin John Thune Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Omnibus spending bill Richard Shelby Steny Hoyer

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