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Decision Day for Avoiding a Government Shutdown?

Appropriators think that decision on another stopgap bill could come today

Appropriations Committee member Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., a former chairman, says there are still some “knotty issues” to work out on a 2017 spending bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Appropriations Committee member Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., a former chairman, says there are still some “knotty issues” to work out on a 2017 spending bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Appropriators think they are close to a deal to fund the government through September, but the hour is fast approaching where a stopgap might be needed to prevent a shutdown at midnight Friday.

Kentucky Rep. Harold Rogers, a former Appropriations chairman and still a senior member of the committee, described the leaders as, “within striking distance” on a fiscal 2017 spending bill.

Rogers added there are some still some “knotty issues” lawmakers need to contend with.

“I don’t want to see an extension,” Rogers said. “I want to see us finish this thing on time. However, if the time runs out on a Friday there is a little extra play room there.”

But House and Senate appropriators always prefer to get their bills through to the president’s desk before a funding deadline rather than resorting to continuing resolutions that effectively lock the government into existing funding and prevent lawmakers from really putting their stamp on operations.

Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, the chairman of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee in the Senate, said that Wednesday was more than likely decision day.

“I think today is the last day you can sort of decide whether you’ve got an agreement you can put together by Friday, or you’ve got an agreement that you might not be able to put together until next Wednesday or so, and if you do, that’ll be the CR and not very complicated,”Blunt said.

Speaking after a legislative policy summit hosted by Baker Hostetler Wednesday morning, Blunt said he needed to be briefed on how much progress top negotiators made Tuesday night.

There has been talk of a one- to two-week continuing appropriations measure that could start in the House if an agreement is reached on broader funding. It can sometimes take days to ensure legislative language of an omnibus spending bill accurately reflects an agreement.

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Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, suggested a continuing resolution, or CR, might also last only a few days.

The Texas Republican said lawmakers should have a good sense Wednesday about whether they will need a short-term CR to fund the government in order to have time to process the spending package.

“The only reason to have a CR would be to finalize this deal. I think we’re very close and so I’m still optimistic that we’re going to get a deal,” Cornyn told reporters. “Obviously it takes a while to process it so there may be a day or two that we need to have a resolution.”

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin told reporters that Democrats have made clear they won’t cooperate on advancing a short-term continuing resolution until and unless there’s an agreement on an omnibus spending bill.

Durbin, the top Democrat on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, said he was waiting for a final package to see whether he could support something without language on cost-sharing payments under the 2010 health care overhaul law.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning that he was hopeful lawmakers would come together on a spending package.

“So long as we try to operate within the parameters our parties have operated under for the last few spending bills, I’m optimistic about the chances for a deal,” Schumer said.

Among the remaining issues were policy riders that Democrats have considered to be non-starters, Schumer said, including restrictions on access to family planning services, as well as funding for Medicaid for Puerto Rico.

The biggest ticket item still on the table was how to deal with cost-sharing subsidies paid to insurance companies designed to help low-income individuals afford health insurance under the 2010 overhaul law.

Schumer also said lawmakers were still looking for a path forward on addressing retired coal miners’ health care in the spending package. The health care program is set to expire at the end of April, after being extended in December. Lawmakers from coal mining states are pushing for a permanent solution to fully fund the health care program.

At a news conference surrounded by miners Wednesday, the lawmakers said they were close to a deal, though the unresolved issue was how to pay for the program. Sen. Joe Manchin III said a permanent solution would cost around $1.3 billion.

“It’s not done until it’s done,” the West Virginia Democrat said. “But we’re so close.”

The talks have been described as having “five corners” instead of four, with Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney playing a key role on behalf of the Trump White House.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,  reiterated to Mulvaney in a conversation Tuesday night that funding for the cost-sharing subsidies in the 2010 health law must be included in the upcoming spending bill in order to win support from Democrats, according to an aide familiar with that discussion.

— Bridget Bowman, Kellie Mejdrich, Jennifer Shutt and Joe P. Williams contributed to this report.

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