Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are facing mounting pressure to meet a critical deadline on a fiscal year spending deal to prevent a government shutdown, with just weeks remaining before funds are scheduled to lapse.
While leaders have made some strides in recent weeks, Congress has until Feb. 18 to hash out an agreement on spending levels for fiscal 2022.
Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, indicated to reporters last week that leaders have their work cut out for them in trying to reach a bipartisan agreement on a potential omnibus spending bill by deadline.
“It’d be hard to get it by the 18th,” Shelby told reporters ahead of recess. “But if we can make huge progress, we’ll probably get it done this soon, but we’ve got to continue to work together. … If we don’t work together, we’ll never pass any appropriation bill.”
Republican and Democratic leaders have pushed back on the idea of Congress passing a full-year continuing resolution (CR), a measure that would allow the government to remain funded at the previous fiscal year’s funding levels, with Shelby and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) strongly against the option, even in the short term.
“To go to a continuing resolution instead of a decisionmaking omnibus bill is to weaken our security and our stability,” Pelosi said at her weekly briefing last week. “The Republicans should know that. So, we hope that we will be able to bring that legislation to the floor before it expires.”
The House has so far passed nine out of 12 appropriations bills to fund the government for fiscal 2022. The Senate, however, has yet to bring any appropriations bills to the floor, as leaders on both sides of the evenly split chamber have struggled for months to reach a bipartisan agreement on a top-line spending number.
There have also been disagreements in areas like defense spending and longtime riders like the Hyde amendment, as well as concurrent, lengthy spending battles over the nation’s debt limit. There was also President Biden’s Build Back Better proposal that has gobbled up legislative time for leaders over the past few months.
February marks the third such deadline for Congress to reach a spending deal since the fiscal year started in October.
Before lawmakers headed home last week, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, appeared to express optimism in the progress lawmakers are making.
“What I’m hoping is that we’ll have something the beginning of next week that will be a real top-line number and an agreement on the riders,” he said, before adding concerns that, if lawmakers fail to act quickly, they’ll be “looking at a CR, which is disastrous.”
But some experts say it’s likely Congress is staring down another temporary continuing resolution in February, given the amount of work still outstanding.
Zach Moller, a former Senate Democratic budget aide who heads the economic program at the centrist think tank Third Way, told The Hill he’s “more optimistic” lawmakers will reach a top-line agreement by the deadline but less so about the chances that “the whole bill will be done.”
“Running into this deadline may force Republicans and Democrats to come together enough that they reach a deal on a top line, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t need another short term CR to go finish the rest of the details,” Moller said.
Earlier this month, Shelby told reporters that he and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sat down with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“Things looking up a little bit,” he said shortly after, before describing the meeting of the four lawmakers as “very cordial.”
Moller also called the recent meeting a good sign for ongoing negotiations.
“Appropriations will not get done unless leadership is meeting with the heads of the Appropriations Committee,” he said.
Since the meeting, Leahy and Shelby have also met with their counterparts in the lower chamber, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and ranking member Kay Granger (R-Texas).
DeLauro, a longtime appropriator, said lawmakers have been having “constructive” meetings with a stated goal in mind: Feb. 18.