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House, Senate reach agreement on subcommittee spending levels

The 12 subcommittees are expected to begin working on the fiscal 2020 bills immediately

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., talks with reporters in July. Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby have reportedly reached an agreement on subcommittee allocations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., talks with reporters in July. Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby have reportedly reached an agreement on subcommittee allocations. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The appropriations process appeared to get back on track Saturday after House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby reached an agreement on subcommittee allocations, according to two sources familiar with the negotiations.

The accord is a positive sign for appropriators, who have been waiting for months to learn how much of the $1.37 trillion in fiscal 2020 funding they would have to spend on each of their bills.

The agreement on funding levels for the 12 appropriations bills, sometimes referred to as 302(b)s, does not include a bipartisan solution on border wall spending, the thorniest issue facing appropriators and the sole policy dispute that led to a 35-day partial government shutdown last year.

Negotiators hope to work out the border wall issue as they solve the various spending levels and policy differences between the dozen annual spending bills, according to one of the sources.

Talks between the chairmen and ranking members of each subcommittee are expected to begin immediately even though Congress is out of town on a weeklong Thanksgiving recess.

[Trump signs stopgap bill, fending off shutdown for now]

When lawmakers return to Washington, they’ll have three weeks to finalize the bills and send them to President Donald Trump before a temporary spending bill expires on Dec. 20 at midnight.

Besides funding for the border wall, lawmakers and the Trump administration have dozens of disputes to settle including whether to backfill $3.6 billion in military construction funds that were diverted to wall construction earlier this year.

“We have been very supportive of the appropriators making progress that builds off of the budget agreement struck this summer, and we will continue to be clear about the President’s priorities,” White House director of legislative affairs Eric Ueland said in a statement. Administration officials said they need to see details of the agreement.

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Democrats have been adamant they will not refund those military projects, saying it would be tantamount to condoning the tactics Trump used to transfer the funding. There are also concerns that the administration would simply take the money, once again, to use on barrier construction along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Republicans and Democrats will also need to determine if a provision in the House Labor-HHS-Education spending bill that would allocate $50 million for gun violence research stays in the final bill.

House Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has said it is a key issue for her in Senate negotiations.

Appropriators have not yet begun discussing how to package the bills, but it’s unlikely there would be a 12-bill omnibus, due to the handshake agreement to prohibit such packaging that went along with the July spending deal.

If negotiators can reach agreement on the full dozen bills, they’ll likely pass in two or three packages, possibly on the same legislative day.

If appropriators cannot agree to all 12 spending bills by Dec. 20, it’s likely that the measures they do reach consensus on will be packaged with a stopgap spending bill for the departments and agencies without full-year funding.

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Saturday’s announcement followed months of ups and downs in the spending negotiations and increasing concern that the stalemate could have led to a full-year stopgap spending bill, or potentially a partial government shutdown just ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Shelby said Thursday that both sides had drawn closer to together, but then talks seemed to widen. He also alluded to the possibility that Democrats added an additional element to the talks, but declined elaborate.

The Alabama Republican, however, was optimistic that if an agreement was reached, negotiators could move quickly to conference the spending bills.

“You’d be surprised what you can do in two days if you work together,” Shelby told reporters Thursday.

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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