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White House signals acceptance of omnibus spending package

Current stopgap spending law expires Dec. 11

The Trump administration appears ready to accept a $1.4 trillion, full-year omnibus appropriations bill rather than a simple short-term government funding extension, according to top Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby met separately on Wednesday with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to talk about year-end legislative priorities. Meadows also had lunch with GOP senators on Wednesday.

“It’s our hope, and I think this is [Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s] view as well, that we can come together on an omnibus and pass it,” McConnell told reporters. “I believe that that’s the preference of the White House as well.”

Shelby, R-Ala., said after his meeting with Meadows that the Trump administration will support an omnibus.

“We went over where we are as far as trying to put the omnibus together and we talked about some parameters between us and the House,” Shelby said. “I thought our meeting was very positive, and he indicated to me that the president and the administration, they want a bill and we do too, and so that’s good.”

Meadows wouldn’t comment after meeting with McConnell, but he appeared ready to defer to the Kentucky Republican on process and legislative packaging. “I’m not going to get into any specifics. That’s going to be a decision by the leader,” Meadows said.

Before he met with McConnell, Meadows wouldn’t comment on the appropriations process other than expressing a general hope that the government won’t shut down when current stopgap funding expires Dec. 11. “Obviously we want to keep the government funded,” he said.

Trump turnaround?

President Donald Trump’s signature on an omnibus would be a sharp reversal from his stated position since March 2018. On the day he signed a 12-bill fiscal 2018 omnibus package that carried dozens of unrelated authorizing bills and tax provisions, he also had a warning for lawmakers.

“I say to Congress: I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it again. Nobody read it. It’s only hours old. Some people don’t even know what is in — $1.3 trillion — it’s the second-largest ever,” he said.

For the fiscal 2019 cycle, Trump signed three separate packages, though one seven-bill measure didn’t pass until early the next calendar year after a 35-day partial shutdown due to a border wall funding spat.

And late last year, lawmakers stretched the boundaries of his pledge by voting on two bundles, one carrying four fiscal 2020 bills and another with eight. Those bills moved alongside one another with the House voting on both on Dec. 17, the Senate voting to clear both measures on Dec. 19 and Trump signing them both on Dec. 20.

The White House still doesn’t like the idea. But a senior administration official signaled grudging acceptance of the possibility Trump might be presented with another mega spending package.

“Nobody thinks big omnibus bills are the best way to do business,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, “but we’ll see how this process plays out.”

And for a defeated Trump, an omnibus might be his last chance to squeeze in a few budget priorities on his way out the door. Democrats will have a more receptive Oval Office occupant in President-elect Joe Biden.

McConnell and Pelosi have already tasked the Appropriations committees with putting together an omnibus bill. “We will pass an omnibus. We don’t want a [continuing resolution]. And we’re on a good path to do that,” Pelosi said Wednesday.

Shelby and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., are trying to reach agreement this week on how much funding to allocate to each of the spending bills.

Shelby said Wednesday he had a good conversation with Lowey and that the two were getting close to an agreement on subcommittee allocations.

“I think we’re close together, but sometimes when you’re close together, you’re driven apart. But I think with the calendar like it is and the clock ticking there’s not a lot of room for error,” Shelby said.

Once those numbers are set, the subcommittees can begin working out the spending levels for various departments and agencies. They can also start to work through thornier policy issues, like border wall spending.

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Paul M. Krawzak, David Lerman and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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