House Democrats introduced a government funding stopgap Monday that would extend current spending levels through March 11 as appropriators continue to negotiate topline spending levels for a fiscal 2022 omnibus bill.
The move would buy Congress an extra three weeks to complete work on an overdue omnibus package for the fiscal year that began last October. The government is currently operating on a continuing resolution that expires on Feb. 18.
The House is expected to vote Tuesday on the new continuing resolution, which would extend most programs at fiscal 2021 levels with a handful of exceptions known as "anomalies," mostly in response to defense needs.
The anomalies include $350 million to address a November fuel leak at the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii that forced thousands of residents out of their homes and left many ill with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Of that money, $250 million is meant to cover expenses related to drinking water contamination and the other $100 million is for the Defense Department to comply with a Hawaii emergency order for removing the fuel and repairing the infrastructure that led to the leak.
Other anomalies would allow an increase to the Interior Department's Working Capital Fund at whatever rate is necessary to implement needed cybersecurity safeguards, and money to cover advanced procurement of the Navy's Columbia Class Submarine to prevent significant schedule delays.
Nearing a 'framework'
House Democrats had initially planned to hold off voting on another continuing resolution until appropriators reached a deal on fiscal 2022 topline spending levels for defense and nondefense programs. But they introduced the new CR Monday and announced it would be voted on Tuesday without such an agreement.
“We are close to reaching a framework government funding agreement, but we will need additional time to complete the legislation in full,” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement. DeLauro called the new stopgap measure a "product of bipartisan, bicameral negotiation" that would "keep government up and running while Congress completes our important work."
Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby told reporters Monday night that the two sides were still exchanging proposals, with GOP negotiators sending over the most recent counteroffer for Democrats to review earlier in the day.
"We've made a lot of progress … we're close, but we haven't concluded it yet," the Alabama Republican said, adding that GOP aides had been negotiating with Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office as well as Democratic appropriators.
He said another meeting of the principals hadn't been scheduled yet but that conversations have been ongoing, including right up to the Senate's 5:30 p.m. vote series."We've come a long way. We're real close," Shelby said, while qualifying he's not certain a deal will come together this week.
A Senate GOP aide speaking on condition of anonymity said earlier Monday that appropriators spent the weekend working on the stopgap measure.
“Our goal is still to get a deal on FY22 bills, but not at any cost. We need to be prepared for all contingencies to ensure the government remains open,” the aide said.
The House Rules Committee adopted a rule for floor debate later on Monday on a voice vote, providing for one hour of debate and no amendments.
DeLauro reiterated during the Rules hearing that she expects an omnibus deal "in short order," and pointed out that "is the only way to enact Community Project Funding" — otherwise known as earmarks — "that my colleagues on both sides of this dais have requested for their districts."
Pushing for 'parity'
Republicans have been pushing for Democrats to agree to “parity,” or equal percentage increases for both defense and nondefense spending. Democrats would like a larger increase for nondefense programs, which they argue has been underfunded for years.
"We think the defense number needs to go up to at least what has been authorized by both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees," said House Rules ranking member Tom Cole, R-Okla., referring to the 5 percent boost over last year proposed in the fiscal 2022 defense authorization law.
On the other hand, House Democrats have proposed about 16 percent more than fiscal 2021 nondefense levels, while Senate Democrats have sought nearly 14 percent more once extra veterans health care funds are accounted for. "I think we're pretty firm on our side that the domestic number needs to come down," Cole said.
GOP negotiators have also been arguing for an agreement to leave out all partisan policy issues that don't have support on their side, but it wasn't clear if such a commitment would be part of an initial deal on spending levels. Cole specifically mentioned the Hyde amendment, which bars federal funds for abortion in most cases, as something that should stay in the final bill, for example.
"We will not support partisan bills that include irresponsible spending increases or extreme policies," House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, said at the Rules hearing.
Time running short
Appropriators will need to reach a topline deal soon to ensure the three-week stopgap provides enough time for them to draft all 12 fiscal 2022 bills and pass the omnibus package through both chambers.
The House is scheduled to be in session through Wednesday before adjourning for two weeks for committee and district work. The Senate will be in session next week but on recess the following week.
Continuing resolutions, while not popular among either party, typically pass with bipartisan support. While the three-week stopgap appears to have been written with input from GOP appropriators, it wasn't clear how broad support would be among the rank and file in both chambers.
A group of 49 Republicans from both the House and Senate sent a letter to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., last week warning they would vote against any government funding bill, whether a stopgap or an omnibus, that funds the enforcement of the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccination-or-test mandates.
“The Biden administration has unilaterally imposed five separate COVID-19 vaccine mandates, four of which continue to directly impact millions of Americans,” the Republicans wrote. “Medical workers, men and women in uniform, federal employees, and federal contractors could face termination if they do not receive a COVID-19 vaccine — even though evidence shows these vaccines do not prevent the spread of the virus.”
The GOP concern over the vaccine-or-test mandates could slow consideration of the CR in the Senate, where any one senator can object to time unanimous consent agreements needed to process votes quickly. But with the House acting well in advance of the Feb. 18 deadline, the Senate will have time to go through regular order if any of the four GOP senators who signed the letter cause problems.
One of the four, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was involved in an effort late last year to slow consideration of the previous continuing resolution until Republicans secured a vote on an amendment to bar funding for implementation of the mandates, which was rejected 48-50.