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Stopgap bill passes House as appropriators narrow differences

Latest continuing resolution would extend agency funding through March 11 while talks continue

House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas: "No one wants a CR."
House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas: "No one wants a CR." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House passed a stopgap appropriations bill Tuesday evening to extend current federal agency funding rates through March 11 as Democrats and Republicans continue to trade offers on topline spending levels for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Both sides claim they’re “close” to a framework deal on the fiscal 2022 omnibus and predict this latest continuing resolution, the third one this fiscal year, will be the last stopgap. The previous CR is set to expire Feb. 18. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in floor remarks Tuesday morning that his chamber will take up the stopgap measure “quickly” after House passage, “in time before the Feb. 18 deadline.” The House vote was 272-162, indicating likely bipartisan support in the Senate as well.

Most of the House opposition came from Republicans, with New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer the only Democrat who voted “no.”

“Stop-gap measures for short-term government funding weaken our military and harm our national defense, our ability to protect our allies abroad, the ability for our states to plan critical infrastructure projects, and much more,” Gottheimer said in a statement, noting his constituents “expect Congress to find practical, bipartisan, long-term solutions.”

Gottheimer argued that with “more than 200 hours” before the Feb. 18 deadline, negotiators should have stayed at the table “until the last possible minute” to secure an omnibus deal. Appropriators and party leaders say they remain engaged in negotiations but reaching agreement wouldn’t leave them enough time to draft and pass the massive 12-bill omnibus through both chambers before current funding expires.

Schumer said that he’s “more confident than ever before” that appropriators and party leaders can agree on an omnibus bill before the new March 11 deadline. That “is far more preferable to the alternative, a CR for the rest of the year,” the New York Democrat said.

In a potential sign that an agreement is near, Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said he spoke with House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Tuesday afternoon and the top appropriators may meet Wednesday.  

“I think a meeting could be fruitful, but it depends on what comes out of it,” Shelby said. 

DeLauro talked up odds of a deal during floor debate on the stopgap bill, which came after she had spoken with Shelby.

“I would have preferred to come before the House to pass a fiscal year 2022 omnibus, but I believe we are very close to an agreement and I am eager to move this process forward,” DeLauro said. “I have every expectation that we can finalize a framework in short order and then work together to fill in the details and enact an omnibus.” 

‘Alternative is much worse’

House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, R-Texas, also expressed hope during floor debate that appropriators could reach an omnibus deal and urged members to vote for the stopgap bill while talks continue.

She and DeLauro argued it was important to vote for the stopgap measure to avoid a debilitating partial government shutdown that could cripple national security and other important functions. 

[Stopgap funding bill introduced to buy more negotiating time]

“No one wants to have a CR, but the alternative is much worse,” Granger said. “I’m hopeful that this CR will give us time to work out our differences and pass bipartisan full-year bills. We will not be able to achieve this goal unless we find consensus on spending levels and we know that controversial policies have been dropped.”

After the House vote, Granger told reporters she has “no idea” if a deal on the omnibus is as close as her counterparts claim, noting, “They’ve been saying that every day.”

But she said a framework has to come together as soon as possible if appropriators are going to have time to negotiate remaining funding and policy details for all 12 spending bills in time to meet the new March 11 deadline.

“If we’re going to have one, we have to have it this week,” she said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement that he expects the top appropriators to complete their work in the next four weeks because the alternative, a continuing resolution for the remainder of the fiscal year, “is unacceptable.”

“We have a responsibility to make the hard choices about how to invest in the future for the American people,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in floor remarks earlier in the day, stressed the need “to escape the hamster wheel of chronic continuing resolutions.”

McConnell reiterated Republicans’ three main requirements for getting an omnibus deal:

  • “Parity,” or equal percentage increases for defense and nondefense spending. 
  • Preservation of “long-standing bipartisan policy riders,” like the Hyde amendment that bars federal funding for abortions in most cases and a provision that prevents the IRS from targeting taxpayers for their political beliefs.
  • Avoidance of “new partisan poison pills” in the final package.

“With these basic things, a bipartisan deal should be achievable,” McConnell said. “Without them, one will be impossible.”

‘Ball is in their court’

Shelby and Granger have fought for those principles in the negotiations with Democrats, which have picked up steam in recent days. 

Speaking with reporters midday Tuesday before his conversation with DeLauro, Shelby said Republicans sent Democrats another counteroffer Monday night, a response to a Democratic counter to a GOP offer from earlier that day, and were waiting on a response. 

“We’re still talking. We’re close. And right now the ball is in their court,” Shelby said. “We’re close. We’re not there.”

He said later after his conversation with DeLauro that Democrats had not sent another counteroffer, noting, “I think they’re still talking among themselves.”

Shelby said the offers the parties are trading are focused on the topline levels for defense and nondefense spending and “principles” like parity, not the policy riders.

The appropriators have not discussed the possibility of any emergency funding for COVID-19 needs, Shelby said, while reiterating Republicans do not want to approve new funding while there’s still unobligated money that can be repurposed.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and DeLauro both said Monday they don’t know if or when the Biden administration may submit a supplemental request formally asking Congress for more COVID-19 funding.

“They clearly have indicated they think there’s some additional needs, both in terms of schools and international” vaccination aid, Hoyer said. “But I don’t know when they’re going to send it down. I think we want to get the omnibus.” 

As to the timeline for reaching a topline agreement, Shelby said it’s possible the appropriators could finalize something before the Senate votes on the continuing resolution. 

“I would hope that’s our goal,” he said. “That’s what we want to do.” 

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