Congressional negotiators are racing to strike a bipartisan deal on government funding for fiscal year 2023 this week, but they have a long way to go before they can put a bow on an omnibus before Christmas.
Lawmakers have until midnight on Friday to pass legislation to keep the government running or risk a shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) said from the chamber floor on Monday that Congress is headed for a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), this week, giving negotiators a likely extra week to try to hash out a larger compromise on billions in spending.
“Members should be prepared to take quick action on a CR, a one-week CR, so we can give appropriators more time to finish a full funding bill before the holidays,” Schumer said on Monday afternoon.
Democratic negotiators had been expected to release new funding proposals as early as Monday after bipartisan spending talks appeared to stall last week.
They said the bills were designed to attract bipartisan support in lieu of a larger spending deal, but the plans met immediate skepticism in the GOP who said the bills had not been pre-approved by Republicans.
“It might come out of the House, but it’s going nowhere in the Senate,” Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters last week, while writing off such bills as “absolutely” a waste of time.
But those plans were scrapped over the weekend after an aide said negotiators made progress in discussions.
A Senate Democratic aide told The Hill on early Monday that Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) felt that “sufficient progress in negotiations took place over the weekend to delay the introduction of the omnibus appropriations bill for the time being.”
“Bipartisan and bicameral negotiations continue,” the aide added.
Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), an appropriator, said last week that one of the biggest hold-ups preventing an agreement is a roughly $25 billion gap between what Democrats and Republicans want allocated for discretionary spending.
Another issue Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raised on Thursday is a conflict over whether veterans funding should be classified as nondefense discretionary spending.
“The more we do for our veterans, which we should do, they want to take it out of other needs that we have for our judiciary, for our housing, for education, for food, for transportation, for energy,” Pelosi said during a press conference.
“So, if we’re increasing veterans at the expense of our domestic agenda, then you see how challenging that is,” Pelosi told reporters, while pushing for certain veterans funding to be considered “in their own category.”
The partisan clashes come as Democrats are fighting to seize what could be the party’s last opportunity to help shape government funding while it still holds narrow control of Congress before January.
Democrats have been unified in pressing for an omnibus by the end of the month, as the House prepares to welcome a newly GOP-led majority at the start of next month. But Republicans in both chambers have been divided over whether Congress should wait until next year to enact new government funding levels to allow the party more sway in talks.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) 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.”
Other Republicans have called for an omnibus to ensure adequate funding for defense and national security.
At the same time, Republicans who have expressed support for an omnibus this month are also pushing hard for Democrats to come down their demands for domestic spending.
“Both sides know what it would take for the Senate to pass a full year government funding bill into law,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor on Monday.
“[The] funding agreement would need to fully fund our national defense at the level written into the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) without lavishing extra funding beyond what President Biden even requested on the Democrats partisan domestic priorities,” McConnell said.
The House recently passed the $847 billion defense authorization bill.
Democrats have hit at Republicans for pushing to plus up defense, while insisting that domestic spending the party passed without GOP support in reconciliation bills over the past two years be factored into talks.
In recent days, the drama has helped fuel a high-stakes spending tug of war on Capitol Hill that has Democrats threatening an option none are thrilled about on Capitol Hill to play hardball: a full-year CR.
“Our preference is an omnibus. That’s what the country needs,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The Hill last week.
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.”