Lawmakers face funding crunch before expected GOP takeover of House
Lawmakers are facing a serious time crunch to hash out government funding for fiscal 2023 as they return to the Capitol with Republicans poised to take a narrow House majority.
Congress has until Dec. 16 to agree on new funding levels to avert a government shutdown. And while they can punt the deadline if negotiations require more time, lawmakers on both sides have been adamant that Congress finish its work before January, when a new Congress will be sworn in.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Sunday that he’s already begun telling colleagues to prepare for “heavy work” and “long hours” ahead of lawmakers’ return this week. “We’re going to try to have as productive a lame-duck session as possible,” he said.
His comments underline the jam-packed list of legislative tasks lawmakers have to check off in the coming weeks, all the while sorting through the nation’s finances.
As Congress holds votes for the first time in weeks on Monday, lawmakers are staring down a critical monthlong stretch until government funding is scheduled to lapse. However, none of the annual appropriations bills have made it through both chambers, as the midterm cycle has dominated much of the focus on Capitol Hill for months.
Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced legislation outlining their funding plans, but the House is the only chamber to have passed any of its funding bills. The lower chamber approved six of the 12 appropriations bills during the summer.
Bipartisan negotiations hit a brick wall in the weeks leading up to midterm elections amid anticipation over which party would lead Congress next year, in addition to a list of longstanding disagreements over issues like defense spending and various legislative riders.
At the same time, there has been a growing push among some House and Senate conservatives to delay new government spending until the new Congress is sworn in, hoping to deny Democrats another chance to put their mark on funding while they hold slim control of both chambers.
The idea of a delay, however, has drawn resistance from other Republicans concerned about how the holdup could impact funding for party priorities.
“Part of the problem with our defense spending is the fact that they have uncertain appropriations and so we need some certainty, I think at least for the Pentagon, on what money they can actually spend and when they can spend,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill earlier this year.
There have also been concerns in recent weeks as to how much aid the U.S. will provide Ukraine in the coming Congress, particularly as Republicans have faced internal rifts around the issue.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed last month that Congress would pass more aid to help Ukraine fight off a Russian invasion as part of its annual government funding legislation.
The promise notably arrived on the heels of calls by House progressives for a renewed push to find a diplomatic solution to the war, but also came after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Republicans would not write “a blank check” to Kyiv if they seized the majority in the midterms.
At the same time, there is also a list of priorities competing for legislative time between now and the year’s end. That includes the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2023, a vote on legislation aimed at protecting same-sex marriage and a cannabis banking bill leaders on both sides have been working to pass in the coming weeks, among other items.
Zach Moller, a former Senate Democratic budget aide, said it “might be the busiest lame duck” Congress has seen since the fiscal cliff of 2012, when the House and Senate had to consider a series of financial issues.
Schumer told reporters on Sunday that lawmakers are also eyeing a potential debt ceiling fix before the next congressional session, as some House Republicans have already pushed to use the debt limit as a leverage point in spending talks next year.
The Bipartisan Policy Center estimated in June that Congress will likely need to take action on the debt ceiling no earlier than the third quarter of next year, or risk a historic default.
“The debt ceiling of course is something that we have to deal with, and it’s something that we will look at over the next few weeks,” Schumer said, while also adding he has to talk to other leaders about the matter.
Getting Republicans on board with a debt ceiling hike could be a tall task. The GOP saw deep rifts among their ranks last year amid a debt limit showdown with Democrats.
The coming retirements of the Senate’s top two negotiators, Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), also add pressure to spending talks, Moller said.
Getting a deal will be difficult, Moller said, but Leahy and Shelby have incentives to reach an agreement before their departures.