The House could take up a three-week stopgap funding extension through March 11 as soon as Tuesday to buy more time for appropriators to write final fiscal 2022 spending bills, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because details haven't been made public.
The temporary spending bill under discussion would only move to the floor if an agreement on topline funding allocations for defense and nondefense programs is reached first. But there was enough apparent progress behind the scenes to warrant talk of a short-term extension rather than a longer continuing resolution that could delay needed funds for the Pentagon, infrastructure programs and more.
“Negotiations are continuing to make good progress on an appropriations framework,” said Evan Hollander, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats. “A CR will only be entertained to provide additional time to finalize legislation after a topline agreement is reached.”
Talks appeared to be continuing Friday after the House wrapped up votes for the week. "We're still working. In fact I'm going back to my office to do just that," Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.
Pelosi said avoiding a longer-term stopgap bill was important for national security, among other reasons. "We have to get a deal," she said.
The current CR lapses on Feb. 18. Even if an agreement on spending levels were imminent, it would take more time than lawmakers currently have to finish writing and voting on a massive 12-bill omnibus. Taking up the new stopgap bill next week would presumably allow House lawmakers to avoid returning to Washington the following week, when the chamber doesn’t have any votes scheduled.
Both chambers currently have recesses scheduled the week of Feb. 21. Discussions can continue at the staff level and by phone during the recess and “committee work days” the week of Feb. 14 in the House, and the Senate is expected to still be in session that week.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the Senate would be on board with a three-week extension, and the length was still under discussion, according to sources. During the weekly House floor colloquy on the chamber's schedule, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., wouldn't comment on timing or specifics but said he hopes it will be a "short, short-term CR" if negotiators can't write an omnibus before Feb. 18.
If senators change the date of the stopgap measure, it would need to go back to the House for another vote, which could yet alter the chamber’s schedule. And the March 11 date could coincide roughly with submission of President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2023 budget request, taking some of the focus off of the current fiscal year’s long-overdue spending bills.
GOP and Democratic appropriators this week were still stuck on spending allocations to defense and nondefense programs and how to handle controversial policy riders dealing with abortion and other hot-button issues.
A three-week stopgap extension would signal that progress is being made behind the scenes, however. On Thursday, Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., suggested that the duration of the CR would be determined by how close the two sides are to a deal.
“If it’s a short-term [CR], that would mean probably that we’re making some progress, real progress,” Shelby said. “If it’s longer, we might go … for the rest of the year.”
The main issue dividing the parties has been Republicans' push for "parity" between increases for defense and nondefense accounts in fiscal 2022 spending bills. Democrats have thus far been willing to accept a 5 percent boost for defense, while providing 13 percent more for domestic and foreign aid programs, which the GOP has rejected as an unequal distribution.
Shelby has "made clear that parity is the path to a deal on toplines," his spokeswoman Blair Taylor said Friday. "At this time, we continue to work to see if an agreement is possible, but need to prepare for all contingencies to ensure the government remains open and continues to function."
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.