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Shutdown-Averting Deal Quickly Hits Oily Snag

Senators hold out for Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization

A continuing resolution to fund the government through Feb. 8 is what lies between the Senate and its holiday break. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
A continuing resolution to fund the government through Feb. 8 is what lies between the Senate and its holiday break. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A measure to extend spending authority for several Cabinet departments and assorted agencies through Feb. 8 was hung up in the Senate Wednesday afternoon over a spat involving the Land and Water Conservation Fund and other items left out of the stopgap.

That’s according to Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, who expressed hope that senators could be convinced to let the measure through the chamber.

“I would hope that people will become rational and realize that the CR is clean. We want to keep it clean,” the Alabama Republican said. “We’ve fought to keep it clean, and the president I think has signaled explicitly that if it’s loaded up, he’s not going to sign it.”

“People want to ride the truck, and I don’t think this is a good time to do it on a CR,” Shelby said.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses fees charged on profits from oil and gas operations on public lands to buy and preserve public lands for recreation. Aiming to reauthorize the program, which lapsed Sept. 30, before the year ends, lawmakers from both parties have been locked in negotiations for weeks. But several conflicts, including whether to move stand-alone legislation or as part of a broader package, have delayed a deal negotiators had hoped to clinch by Dec. 7.

Sen. Richard M. Burr, one of the leading advocates of the LWCF, said “I’d like to get land and water conservation fund reauthorized today.”

But the North Carolina Republican also said, “I’m not advocating closing down the government.”

The continuing resolution already includes several add-ons, including temporary authorization through Feb. 8 for several expiring programs including the Violence Against Women Act, the National Flood Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and authority for the EPA to collect pesticide registration fees.

The CR would also extend through Feb. 8:

  • A Department of Homeland Security program designed to protect chemical facilities from terrorist attacks.
  • Two lapsed Department of Health and Human Services authorities designed to combat pandemics and potential biological attacks.
  • The E-Verify program, which employers use to check the immigration status of prospective workers, and visa programs for foreign investors, seasonal workers, medical school graduates and religious workers.

There is also authorization through March 31 for two so-called Medicaid extenders:

  • A program known as “Money Follows the Person,” which helps people who receive Medicaid to live in the community rather than an institution.
  • A program that helps to ensure people whose spouse is covered by Medicaid for long-term care is still able to keep some of his or her income.
  • The decision to pass another continuing resolution instead of the final seven fiscal 2019 spending bills follows weeks of back-and-forth negotiations as lawmakers sought to reach some type of border wall funding agreement that could have gained the support of Democrats and President Donald Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said repeatedly that the only two offers he would accept were the final six spending bills plus a full-year stopgap for the Homeland Security bill, or all seven with the Homeland bill including the $1.6 billion for 65 miles of “pedestrian fencing” in the Rio Grande Valley that both parties agreed to include in the Senate’s original spending bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made Democrats an offer on Tuesday that would have done just that but also included an additional $1 billion for addition border security measures that Democrats rejected as a “slush fund.”

McConnell introduced the CR as an amendment to a prior House-passed spending bill that stalled in the Senate on Wednesday morning that is expected to give lawmakers more time to reach a final agreement in the new year.

The House is expected to pass the continuing resolution on Thursday, possibly under suspension of the rules which requires the support of two-thirds of lawmakers present and voting. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation once it reaches his desk, according to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.

The current stopgap funding law expires at midnight Friday, after which the agencies that do not have final or temporary appropriations would partially shut down.

Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.

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