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Appropriators reach spending agreement, fend off possibility of government shutdown

The deal ends months of negotiations that revolved around border wall funding

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., arrives at the Capitol office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., arrives at the Capitol office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans and Democrats reached agreement “in principle” Thursday on $1.37 trillion in government funding, staving off the possibility of another shutdown just a week before spending is set to run out, according to Appropriations Committee leaders.

The deal — reached just hours after a meeting between Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby— ends months of tense negotiations that revolved around border wall funding.

“We have an agreement on all 12 [fiscal 2020] bills,” Lowey, D-N.Y., told reporters after meeting with her Appropriations counterparts.

“We’ve had a good day. We’ve had some serious discussions and we believe that we’re where we need to be,” added Shelby, R-Ala.

Appropriators plan to give the Trump administration $1.375 billion for border barrier construction, significantly less than the $5 billion the White House hoped to receive in new funding for the Department of Homeland Security, but the same amount Congress approved in fiscal 2019, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Congress also will not backfill $3.6 billion in military construction funds that the White House diverted earlier this year to the border wall, despite the administration pushing for that funding, the source said. Trump will be able to retain his ability to transfer funding from Pentagon accounts to the border wall, the source added.

The agreement will be drafted into legislation this weekend, with the House and Senate expected to hold floor votes next week on at least two packages.

“It is my hope that we will consider those appropriations bills on the floor on Tuesday; perhaps a series of minibus packages to fund all of government for the remainder of the fiscal year,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Thursday afternoon. 

Hoyer said he’d discuss with Lowey how many packages they plan to put on the floor. Both parties have pledged to avoid another omnibus bill encompassing all 12 bills since the fiscal 2018 law was enacted in March 2018.

In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats will need to reach a timing agreement if the bills are to pass before a temporary spending bill expires Dec. 20 at midnight.

“It will certainly take a great deal of cooperation and consent here in the Senate if we intend to consider and pass these measures before the end of the year.,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday before the spending agreement was announced. 

President Donald Trump will also need to sign the legislation. Shelby said he thought Mnuchin’s involvement, plus buy-in from GOP leaders, made that a likely outcome.

“I think that we will be fine,” Shelby said. “We’ve had Secretary Mnuchin involved in a lot of discussions, we’ve had the speaker of the House, we’ve had the majority leader of the Senate and we’ve had the four of us. We feel good with where we are.”

The agreement wraps up a sprint for appropriators and staff, who found out shortly before Thanksgiving how much of the $1.37 trillion in discretionary spending each of the dozen subcommittees would have to spend during fiscal year 2020, which began on Oct. 1.

[Meet the key appropriations players of the fall]

Since then, they have worked to bridge differences in spending levels and policy between the bills House Democrats wrote this summer and the legislation Senate Republicans released in September. 

As of Wednesday, appropriators still had more than 100 open items left to resolve with partisan disagreements about border wall spending still open. 

A series of meetings and offers led to a somewhat frantic Thursday, with Lowey and Shelby meeting with House ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, and Senate ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., around 10 a.m. before Lowey and Shelby went into a meeting with Pelosi and Mnuchin. 

Republicans sent a proposal to Democrats during the afternoon, after which Lowey, Shelby, Granger and Leahy met again to hash out the final elements. 

The dozen full-year funding bills join the annual defense authorization bill, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and a long-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank on the list of items Republicans and Democrats have agreed to this week.

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