Congress 'close' to massive government funding deal

Congress 'close' to massive government funding deal
© Greg Nash

Top negotiators are closing in on a massive government funding agreement — one of the final items on Congress's to-do list before it wraps for the year.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money — No SALT, and maybe no deal Fiscal spending deadline nears while lawmakers face pressure to strike deal These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 MORE (R-Ala.) on Friday described himself as optimistic about the chances of getting a deal before next week's deadline.

"We're real close," Shelby said about an omnibus deal.

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Though a deal Friday is unlikely, Shelby said negotiators "could" get an agreement over the weekend — a breakthrough that would pave the way for votes in the House as soon as early next week.

With Congress passing a one-week continuing resolution (CR) earlier in the day, lawmakers now have until Dec. 18 to either pass a mammoth omnibus, which would fund the government through Sept. 30, or kick the can down the road with another CR.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: I'm going to give Biden's Supreme Court nominee 'a fair look' Progressive millionaire group backs Cisneros, McBath in first public endorsements Clyburn calls for full-court press on voting rights MORE (R-Ky.) tipped his hand at the behind-the-scenes work on a year-end deal shortly before the Senate passed the stopgap bill Friday.

"We ought to pass a full-year funding measure, and I hope our committees in the Senate and the House can complete their work and deliver legislation next week," McConnell said.

He added as he left the Capitol for the week that he was "hopeful" that lawmakers would be able to get across the finish line with the omnibus.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBriahna Joy Gray discusses Pelosi's 2022 re-election announcement The Hill's Morning Report - Who will replace Justice Breyer? House Republicans bash Democrats' China competition bill MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday that a government funding deal was "close," adding that "there's still some concerns, but that's the way it always goes."

The roughly $1.4 trillion funding deal would include all 12 fiscal 2021 bills, after Congress needed to use two CRs to keep the government open past Oct. 1, 2020 — the start of the new fiscal year.

Negotiators have had to wade through perennial sticking points, including working out a deal funding for the border and the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds.

Asked about funding for the border, Shelby indicated that they were going with roughly $2 billion — the same amount in the Senate's funding bills. He stopped short of saying all sides were "satisfied."

"The wall fund is about where we were — status quo," he said.

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The biggest sticking point for the talks has been trying to figure out how to cover $12.5 billion for a Veterans Affairs health care program that provides more access to private doctors.

Senate Republicans and House Democrats have indicated they would be supportive of making the money "emergency" funding, meaning it doesn't have to be counted under spending caps as part of a two-year budget deal. But that idea has received pushback from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyRhode Island state treasurer running for Langevin's seat in US House McConnell aims to sidestep GOP drama over Trump House Republicans bash Democrats' China competition bill MORE (R-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinConservatives are outraged that Sarah Bloom Raskin actually believes in capitalism Suspect in Khashoggi murder arrested The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to tackle omicron risks with new travel rules MORE.

"I think it's going to work out, but it hasn't yet," Shelby said. "I think that's the big obstacle, barring something parachuting in."

Shelby added that if they could resolve the Veterans Affairs fight, "I think we could see open field."

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell aims to sidestep GOP drama over Trump There is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections Juan Williams: It's Trump vs. McConnell for the GOP's future MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, indicated on Friday as he left the Capitol that negotiators were making progress.

"I think the appropriations language is coming together. And if they could get an agreement about how to handle the, you know, the veterans piece of that, and it sounds like they may be there," Thune said.

Even if negotiators get a deal on government funding itself, they'll still need to figure out what, if anything, can be added in terms of coronavirus relief.

Leadership is looking at including some components in the omnibus bill after struggling for weeks to reach an agreement on a sweeping year-end deal. Meanwhile, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersMcConnell warns Biden not to 'outsource' Supreme Court pick to 'radical left' Briahna Joy Gray discusses Pelosi's 2022 re-election announcement Ocasio-Cortez: Supporting Sinema challenge by someone like Gallego would be easy decision MORE (I-Vt.) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyBriefing in brief: WH counters GOP attacks on planned SCOTUS pick Manchin and Sinema must help Biden make the Supreme Court look more like America Senate Republicans press federal authorities for information on Texas synagogue hostage-taker MORE (R-Mo.) are threatening to use any mammoth deal as leverage to get a vote on their proposal for a second round of stimulus checks.

"I am prepared to withdraw my objection at this moment, but I will not be prepared to withdraw an objection next week," Sanders warned on the Senate floor Friday.

Asked about how realistic it is that he'll be able to force a vote, Sanders said "comfortable," adding that the "alternative is we're going to spend Christmas here."