'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled

'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled
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A committee meeting to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of a three-bill spending package was abruptly canceled Thursday morning, throwing a wrench into plans to restore regular order to spending legislation

Congress has until Oct. 1 to pass new spending legislation or a stopgap measure to prevent a third government shutdown this year.

The first three spending measures — covering the legislative branch, energy and water, and military construction and veterans' affairs — were combined into one “minibus” bill, different versions of which passed in the House and Senate.

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Thursday’s committee meeting was set to iron out differences between the two versions before sending the updated bills back to the House and Senate floors and eventually to the president’s desk.

Early on, Senate Democrats insinuated that the delay was political in nature.

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDem senator praises Ford opening the door to testifying Ford opens door to testifying next week Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh MORE (D-Vt.) said he was "disappointed" by the delay, and specifically pointed to his intention to offer an amendment that would allow some funds to be spent outside legal spending caps.

But others said the postponement was unrelated.

Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenTrump endorses Republican candidate in key NJ House race On The Money: Lawmakers get deal to avoid shutdown | House panel approves 'tax cuts 2.0' bill | Jobless claims hold steady near 49-year low Congress sends first spending package to Trump in push to avert shutdown MORE (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee denied the connection.

“The House was not aware that any amendment would have been offered this morning, nor what the content of any amendment may have been,” he said.

"I don't think that's the reason they delayed it, but there is going to be an issue on the VA part of it over whether the VA Choice is under the caps or outside of the caps," added Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonOvernight Energy: Trump reportedly set to weaken methane rule | Exxon appeals climate case to Supreme Court | California commits to 100 percent clean energy | Tribes sue over Keystone XL pipeline Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog to probe Superfund panel | Zinke opens more wildlife refuges to hunting | House to vote on energy spending bill next week GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat MORE (R-Idaho), a House appropriator. "The Senate wants it outside of the caps, we did our bill with it under the caps. So that's one of the many issues that needs to be resolved, and that probably has to be resolved before you decide what the caps are going to be."

Aides said the postponement was due to scheduling conflicts and the fact that the House markup of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill went late on Wednesday.

“The House Labor-[Health and Human Services]-Education markup ran very late last night, leading our conferees to need additional time to prepare for conference. We expect the meeting to be rescheduled soon,” a Democratic House aide told The Hill. 

The postponement further complicates an already tight schedule, despite the fact that the House and Senate appropriations committees have moved their bills more swiftly than in recent years.

"It doesn't have to be before August. Obviously we have until October 1st," said Simpson, adding that the goal remained to pass a final version before August.

Congress has only two legislative weeks ahead of the August recess, though the Senate is scheduled to spend some of that time in Washington. After that, legislators will have one more month before the shutdown deadline to wrap up spending legislation.

The conference was likely to convene next week, Simpson said.

Aside from the three-bill package, none of the other nine bills have passed the full House or Senate. For each of those bills there are also substantial differences between the two chambers' versions.

On top of that, President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE has vowed to veto any stopgap measure that doesn’t fully fund his controversial wall along the southern border.

"Sooner or later, one way or another, we're going to have to do the appropriations bills," said Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump rips 'ridiculous' spending bill | FBI dragged into new fight | Latest on Maryland shooting Jeb Bush campaigns with Rick Scott in Florida GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat MORE (R-Fla), also an appropriator. 

"The later it happens, the more chaotic and less transparent the process," he added.

This story was updated at 3:30 p.m.