‘The clock ticks’: Congress races to resolve high-stakes spending tug-of-war

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Greg Nash
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) speaks to reporters as he arrives at the Capitol.

Lawmakers are digging in their heels in a high-stakes, end-of-the-year spending tug-of-war, with only a week now left before a government shutdown deadline.

While leading negotiators say they’ve been exchanging topline figures for a potential omnibus funding bill that many are still optimistic could pass this month, members say it’s becoming clearer that negotiations will likely need to extend beyond the current Dec. 16 deadline.

Negotiators have speculated leaders will try to bring up a short-term bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), potentially extending funding at fiscal 2022 funding levels through Dec. 23 to keep the government running amid ongoing talks. 

Some Republicans, meanwhile, are openly calling for a CR into next year, seeking to punt the action until their party control the House.

But some are shooting for an earlier cutoff date to apply pressure as leaders race to put a bow on fiscal 2023 funding before Christmas.

“When I’m talking about very short-term CR, I never see the value in one week,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on Thursday. “I always think you should go in three-day increments just to keep the pressure up.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), vice-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters on Thursday that he thinks leaders will decide on a CR that will at least fund the government through sometime in the current session. But whether they will stack the date against the weekend of Christmas Eve or even closer to Dec. 30 remains unclear.

“I think there’s gonna be more of a sense of urgency as the clock ticks,” Shelby said.

Democrats have been unified in pressing for an omnibus before the end of the year, rather than passing a CR through sometime in the next Congress, when they’ll have to tangle with a Republican-controlled lower chamber.

Democratic negotiators also say they’re set to release new funding plans as early as next week that they claim are designed to attract GOP support to get the ball rolling.

“We’ve been busy at work writing a bill designed to get Republican votes,” Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security Chair Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters on Wednesday. 

But House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) wouldn’t say much on Thursday as to whether leaders plan to bring the legislation up for a vote next week. 

“We’ll see where we go with that,” she told, though she reiterated that Democrats “crafted the omnibus considering what the Republican priorities are.”

However, negotiators on both sides say the legislation has largely been crafted without GOP input, as they say Republican negotiators have been instructed not to engage in the process in lieu of a larger topline agreement. 

And the plans are already fueling skepticism among Republicans ahead of their expected release.

Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), an appropriator, poured cold water on the effort on Thursday, telling The Hill: “I think anytime that you craft a bill or series of bills that don’t have bipartisan support to begin with, I think it’s a waste of exercise.”

“It’s going nowhere. It might come out of the House, but it’s going nowhere in the Senate,” Shelby told reporters, writing off such bills as “absolutely” a waste of time. 

But Democrats drafting the funding pitch are hopeful Republicans will be receptive to them.

“This is not designed to be some sort of gotcha. We think we’re getting closer and closer and so it shouldn’t be viewed through the lens of this being some sort of setup,” said Schatz, who heads the appropriations subpanel for transportation and housing. 

“This is not going to end up being some wish list of Democratic priorities. This is a balanced proposal,” he argued. 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is among the Republicans calling for a delay until they have House control. Cruz said last week that Congress should pass a CR that runs “until early next year” – a move he said would allow the newly elected Congress to “enact the priorities that the voters elected them to enact.”

A stopgap measure freezing funding levels past Jan. 3 would allow Republicans significantly more influence in shaping government funding, but Democrats say it would also raise the risk of shutdown in a further divided Congress.

But other Republicans haven’t given up on an omnibus, citing concerns for defense and national security. GOP appropriators pushing for an omnibus also say it would allow the next Congress a fresh start to hash out fiscal 2024 appropriations, while pointing to the coming retirements Shelby and Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Boozman said of the biggest hold-ups negotiators say is preventing an agreement is a roughly $25 billion gap between what Democrats and Republicans say they want for discretionary spending.

“First thing we’ve got to do is agree on the number. So, we’ve agreed on defense,” Boozman said. But when it comes to discretionary spending, he said Democrats are “going to have to come down or I don’t see us getting a deal.”

At the same time, Democrats say they’re preparing for a full-year CR — an option neither side wants — as conservatives turn up the heat on GOP leadership to gun for a short-term one to next Congress. 

“Our preference is an omnibus. That’s what the country needs,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), another appropriator, told The Hill. But if lawmakers fail to strike a larger funding deal before the next Congress begins, Van Hollen said Democrats would push for a CR “that goes through the remainder of the fiscal year.”

“Rather than something that ends up in January, where House Republicans decide to play games to shut down the government,” he added. 

Tags Appropriations Brian Schatz Government spending House Inflation John Boozman Richard Shelby spending bill

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