'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 LeahyNegotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline This week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Congress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break 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 FrelinghuysenThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Top House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action 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 SimpsonHouse passes Paycheck Fairness Act Press: Democrats dare to think big Dem chairwoman seeks watchdog probe of Park Service’s shutdown operations 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 TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question 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-BalartOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record House passes amendment to block funding for transgender troops ban House passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' 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.