Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate

Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate
© Greg Nash

Top negotiators are set to meet Tuesday to try to break a stalemate over funding the government. 

Congress has until Nov. 21 to prevent the second shutdown of the year after a 35-day partial closure that ended in February. They’re eyeing another stopgap bill to give appropriators more time, sources told The Hill on Monday, with a potential end date between Dec. 13 and Dec. 20. 

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The likelihood that lawmakers punt comes as they remain stuck over major details in the fiscal 2020 bills, including top-line figures known as 302(b)s and money for President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' MORE’s border wall. 

Lawmakers hope getting the top members of the House and Senate appropriations committees in a room together will pave the way for an agreement. 

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyRoberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight GOP senator on Trump soliciting foreign interference: 'Those are just statements' Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial MORE (R-Ala.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse revives agenda after impeachment storm On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Senate approves Trump trade deal with Canada, Mexico | Senate Dems launch probe into Trump tax law regulations | Trump announces Fed nominees House Democrats unveil .35B Puerto Rico aid bill MORE (D-N.Y.) will meet Tuesday. Their respective ranking members, Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyOvernight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Senate Dems urge Esper to oppose shifting Pentagon money to border wall Senate opens Trump impeachment trial MORE (D-Vt.) and Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Texas), had been expected to attend but a Democratic aide said Monday that due to scheduling conflicts it will just be Shelby and Lowey. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial Biden calls for revoking key online legal protection GOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff MORE (Mo.), a member of Republican leadership and the Appropriations Committee, said the panel’s leaders have the power to make a deal on top-line figures and once they do the rest of the funding talks “go fairly quick.” 

“One meeting could certainly direct the staff to decide this in a day at the most,” he added. 

They have a track record of being able to untangle sticky funding fights, including the deal that ended the partial government shutdown in February. 

“I’d just like to get it wrapped up. If our respective caucuses said, ‘Well, why don’t you guys work it out,’ we’d have something done in a matter of hours,” Leahy said. 

But the group also needs buy-in from leadership in both parties and Trump, who is seen as the wild card in the fight. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' Romney pledges 'open mind' ahead of impeachment trial McConnell proposes compressed schedule for impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) and House Democratic leadership have indicated they want to wrap up the fiscal 2020 bills by the end of the year. 

Shelby pointed to the wall funding and the disagreement over 302(b) figures, which set the top line for each of the 12 2020 spending bills, as the major hurdles to a deal. 

“We’re going in with open eyes and try to assess where we are and how do we get to yes,” Shelby said. “There’s a time to fight, but right now we ought to fight to get our appropriations bills.” 

The meeting between the top appropriators comes after a flurry of talks during the past week. Shelby met last week with McConnell and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland to discuss government funding. 

“We talked about getting serious in trying to get the president and the Speaker involved and let’s move off the dime on approps,” Shelby said about his discussions with McConnell. 

He added that if Trump and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team House revives agenda after impeachment storm Democrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public MORE (D-Calif.) “come together again we’ll move our bills. If they don’t, we’re going to be drifting.” 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications MORE (D-N.Y.) also said late last week that he had been talking with McConnell, Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyCalifornia sues Trump administration over fracking Trump: Impeachment timing intended to hurt Sanders Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 MORE (R-Calif.) about how to fund the government and that there were “positive signs.” 

“Both parties, both sides, Democrat, Republican, House and Senate appropriators, have started talking again about restarting the good-faith negotiations on the remaining bills,” Schumer said during a floor speech. 

The Senate has passed a package of four appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. 

But Democrats blocked a second package that included a mammoth defense bill. House Democrats have also indicated they won’t go to conference to negotiate a final deal on the four-bill package until they’ve reached an agreement on fiscal 2020 funding in its totality. 

“Over the summer, the Speaker of the House and my colleague, the Democratic leader, both signed on to a bipartisan, bicameral budget deal that Democrats hammered out with President Trump’s team in order to avoid exactly, exactly the kind of partisan stalemate that we’re now experiencing,” McConnell said last week from the Senate floor. 

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Shelby, asked if McConnell won’t bring additional spending bills to the floor without a larger deal on the top-line figures, said, “That’s my understanding at the moment.” 

Congress still needs to pass each of the 12 fiscal 2020 appropriations bills after using a stopgap continuing resolution to fund the government until Nov. 21. They’re expected to pass a second stopgap bill. A senior Democratic aide told The Hill on Monday that the stop date for that bill could be as late as Dec. 20, putting it in the same time frame as a potential House impeachment vote. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse revives agenda after impeachment storm House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate House to vote on Iran war powers bills sought by progressives MORE (D-Md.) said the House will vote on the stopgap bill next week. 

“This action will, unfortunately, be necessary to keep the government open as we work toward an agreement on 302(b) allocations, which will allow us to move appropriations bills that are in line with the bipartisan budget caps agreement,” Hoyer wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter to the House Democratic caucus. 

With Congress expected to be out of town the week of Thanksgiving, that would give lawmakers an extra three weeks in session to come together on a larger fiscal 2020 deal. 

“I think if we can get this done this year, we should make every possible effort to get it done this year,” Blunt said. 

Pressed if the extra three weeks was enough time, he added: “It’s not that. It’s how much time there is between now and Dec. 13. We should not be putting this off.”