Early morning omnibus filing expected; four-day stopgap prepped
Short funding extension needed to buy time in slow-moving Senate
Text of a massive fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill was being assembled early Wednesday morning in advance of floor action on the measure later in the day, as well as a short stopgap funding extension through March 15 to buy time for the Senate to clear the huge package.
A House Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Rules Committee would meet shortly after the omnibus is filed.
Various hiccups throughout the day Tuesday delayed release of the long-anticipated bill text. For example, congressional leaders spent the afternoon negotiating potential add-ons to the bill, including cybersecurity legislation and a bipartisan deal to revive lapsed Violence Against Women Act authorities.
“Republicans and Democrats are very, very close to finalizing the agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday after Democrats’ early afternoon caucus lunch. “I expect there will be text released in a few hours. And we’re working very hard on a few last-minute issues: cyber and VAWA.”
After expected House passage by Wednesday afternoon, it was likely to take longer in the Senate given that chamber's procedural hurdles. As a result, a brief partial government shutdown was plausible since GOP objections to a unanimous consent agreement to speed consideration in the Senate could delay final passage beyond expiration of the current stopgap funding law Friday at midnight.
Appropriations staff worked through the night Monday and into Tuesday to finalize text for the massive spending package, which would appropriate roughly $1.5 trillion across defense and nondefense government accounts, nearly $14 billion in emergency funding for the Ukraine crisis and $15 billion in largely reprogrammed COVID-19 aid.
The amount of aid to Ukraine ticked up in recent days from $10 billion the administration requested last week to $12 billion on Monday. By Tuesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the parties had agreed to appropriate $14 billion, although Schumer said the exact amount is “a little less than that.”
Schumer had announced in floor remarks earlier in the day that the omnibus would include over $15 billion in funding for the government’s ongoing COVID-19 response, noting that would be “one of the most important elements of the omnibus.”
About two-thirds of the COVID-19 aid is expected to go to the Department of Health and Human Services and the rest to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Republicans had proposed using unspent pandemic aid from other government accounts to replenish those funds.
“I think it will be offset, fully,” Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations ranking member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, declining to specify the offsets.
But Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said “a lot” of the Ukraine and COVID-19 aid would come from emergency funding. “A little bit of that is still being negotiated,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said later Tuesday evening that COVID-19 aid offsets were still being discussed.
While negotiators have decided to underfund the administration’s $22.5 billion request for “immediate” pandemic needs, lawmakers said they expect to debate further COVID-19 supplemental appropriations in the near future. Leahy said he’s prepared to appropriate additional funds “as is needed” for COVID-19 and Ukraine.
Hitching a ride
Congressional leaders negotiating last-minute additions to the omnibus appeared to be the primary holdup to finalizing text.
Schumer said there is “a real good chance” that the omnibus would include a bipartisan compromise to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, a lapsed 1994 law that authorizes funding for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
A deal on compromise VAWA legislation that a bipartisan group of senators announced last month resolved a longstanding partisan dispute by preserving the “boyfriend loophole” that allows unmarried partners to keep their guns even if they are found guilty of violence against people they date.
Schumer didn't elaborate on the cyber-related additions being negotiated. Last week the Senate passed a bipartisan bill by unanimous consent that, among other things, would require operators of critical infrastructure, as well as federal civilian agencies, to report cyberattacks on their networks to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Similar House legislation that hasn't advanced in that chamber also has bipartisan support.
Other add-ons have already been agreed to, such as a package of health care provisions including Medicare program extensions and language that would eliminate a loophole allowing manufacturers of synthetic nicotine products to escape federal regulation.
Restaurants, tax provisions left out
But a bipartisan small-business relief package that would have backfilled the depleted Restaurant Revitalization Fund with up to $48 billion and provided grant funding for other small businesses that didn’t qualify for previous rounds of aid did not make it into the package.
Senate Small Business Chair Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., the lead negotiator on that package, said his understanding is that GOP leaders objected to the restaurant relief even though Democrats offered some offsets for the funding.
"I've talked to Senator Schumer already. If we can bring it to the floor as a separate bill, we might do that. We're not giving up," Cardin said.
As the omnibus was nearly done, lawmakers, aides and outside sources all said it would not contain a tax title despite a push to include a renewal of expired business tax breaks and a retirement savings package.
“I don't expect there will be” a tax section, Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said.
While there’s broad bipartisan support for renewing full expensing of corporate research and development costs, which lapsed at the start of the year, some Democrats did not want to move business tax breaks before restoring individual tax provisions like the more generous child tax credit paid in monthly installments. The larger, monthly child tax credit disappeared at the beginning of 2022 after objections from Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., stalled a broader budget package.
Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of liberal groups, said in a series of tweets Tuesday that restoring R&D expensing in the omnibus would be a "slap in the face" to families who lost the child tax credit.
An effort to get a bipartisan retirement savings package that the House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved last year into the omnibus appeared to fall short.
Cardin said he and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, have been working with Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., and ranking Republican Kevin Brady of Texas, but he didn't believe it would make it into the omnibus. Portman and Cardin have their own bill aimed at boosting Americans’ savings.
“There’s so many different tax provisions that people wanted that unless they got theirs, they didn’t want the others to get in,” Cardin said. “It’s difficult to get a tax section agreed to.”
Wyden also said he wanted more time for his panel to consider and weigh in on a retirement package.
A retirement package could still move on its own given broad support in both chambers. And the U.S. industrial and manufacturing competitiveness bill that the House and Senate are negotiating, a separate tax "extenders" bill or a possible reconstituted budget reconciliation package are potential vehicles for business breaks including the R&D expensing fix.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said leadership is hoping to have a bicameral agreement on the competitiveness package to advance by summer, as well as a deal on a new version of what used to be called the "Build Back Better" reconciliation bill.
‘Not going to get delayed’
DeLauro was adamant after a private House Democratic Caucus meeting Tuesday morning the omnibus would be ready for the House to pass on Wednesday.
“It’s not going to get delayed. We’re going to vote tomorrow,” she said.
DeLauro said House leaders had not made a decision on whether to use a procedure known as “dividing the question” to hold separate votes on the defense and nondefense portions of the package, which would then merge back into a single bill before it is sent to the Senate. Nor did that come up in caucus, members said.
The House is scheduled to adjourn midday Wednesday so Democrats can travel to their annual issues conference in Philadelphia.
Hoyer warned House Democrats during the caucus meeting that there’s a slim chance they may need to return for a Friday session if the Senate were to amend the omnibus or get bogged down in procedural delays that would necessitate a short-term stopgap.
He confirmed to reporters after the meeting that the House would return “if necessary” but he was hoping it wouldn’t be. If a stopgap becomes necessary it would be “very short-term because a lot of work has been done,” he said.
But the possibility of a fourth continuing resolution couldn’t be completely ruled out with the text not filed and uncertainty over how cooperative lawmakers would be in fast tracking it.
Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said he hopes Congress can clear the omnibus by Friday but if not, “I think we would pass a quick CR that would tide it over. We’re not going to shut this government down.”
Meanwhile, Leahy was already looking beyond this year's omnibus and thinking about fiscal 2023, which starts in less than seven months. He said as soon as the omnibus clears, he plans to call a meeting of Appropriations panel leaders to discuss next year’s bills.
Leahy and Shelby are retiring at the end of the year, so Leahy plans to include their expected replacements, Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, in the discussions.
“Their life is a lot easier if we get bills through this year,” Leahy said.
Paul M. Krawzak, Chris Marquette and Lauren Clason contributed to this report.