Stopgap funding bill set to dominate September agenda
Pandemic aid, energy permitting and other proposals loom over negotiations
Lawmakers return to Washington this month to wrestle with a White House request for $47.1 billion in emergency supplemental funds and the need to pass a stopgap spending bill to avoid a partial government shutdown starting Oct. 1.
On top of that, Democrats have to see if they can get enough support from their own side to attach energy permitting legislation sought by Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., to the continuing resolution, known as a CR.
Manchin said Democratic leaders promised to move the permitting measure before Sept. 30 as one of the conditions that led him to vote for the climate, health care and tax reconciliation bill that President Joe Biden signed into law last month. But no decision has been made to attach it to the funding bill.
The CR under discussion in the House would extend spending at roughly fiscal 2022 levels to Dec. 16, two and half months into the new fiscal year, with exceptions for a number of "anomalies" enabling higher funding rates for various programs as is typical. The expiration date hasn't been finalized and could still change.
The current plan is for the House to consider the stopgap bill next week, leaving plenty of time, in theory, to get it through the Senate and to Biden's desk.
Both parties say they want to avoid a shutdown. But getting the stopgap across the finish line may be more complicated now after the White House supplemental request.
Most Democrats will likely support the White House proposal. But according to sources familiar with GOP thinking, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and GOP lawmakers are digging in for a “clean” stopgap.
That particularly applies to pandemic funding.
The White House asked for $22.4 billion in emergency funds for COVID-19. Republicans have rejected additional pandemic-related funding since last year, arguing the administration should repurpose the hundreds of billions of dollars in appropriated aid that has not been spent or obligated.
Based on the latest compilation by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, about $670 billion in pandemic aid passed by Congress remains unspent or uncommitted. Sources familiar with GOP thinking say there is little reason to believe the Republican view on this has changed.
Biden requested $22.5 billion in emergency funds in March. When Congress did not give that to him, the administration diverted $10 billion from other accounts to purchase vaccines and therapeutics because stocks were running low.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., included $21 billion in emergency pandemic funding in the fiscal 2023 appropriations bills he released in July. He is still working to pass additional funding for COVID-19 and monkeypox, a spokesman said.
One of the few initiatives that might get on the stopgap without much opposition is more funding for Ukraine in its war to defend itself against a Russian invasion. If the aid is targeted, Republicans might go along with it, people familiar with GOP thinking say.
The White House supplemental request includes $13.7 billion in Ukraine-related funds, including $7.2 billion for military aid and $4.5 billion in economic assistance. Another $2 billion would go towards domestic energy needs to help deal with higher costs stemming from a decrease in Russian supply.
It's also not clear whether GOP lawmakers will dig in against the entirety of the White House's $6.5 billion disaster aid request, which includes money to help recover from flooding in McConnell's home state of Kentucky, for instance.
Another issue that's cropped up is whether to attach legislation that would codify same-sex marriage rights, as reported earlier by Punchbowl News.
A Democratic source on Capitol Hill confirmed that senior Senate Democrats are considering the move, though no decision has been made. The House in July passed the same-sex marriage measure with backing from 47 Republicans. The support of least 10 GOP senators would be needed in that chamber.
Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio co-sponsored the Senate version, though there are others who've expressed support and Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., has said it could potentially get 10 GOP votes.
Apart from pandemic aid, the other unresolved question is whether to attach the permitting legislation sought by Manchin, which would accelerate the federal approval of energy projects and the completion of a natural gas pipeline running from Virginia to West Virginia.
Based on a summary Manchin released, the bill would set timelines for environmental reviews of projects, create a statute of limitations for court challenges, and speed up approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline in his home state, among other changes.
Progressives in the House pose the most immediate threat to the proposal. Some have been critical of it, including Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz.
Environmental activists are mobilizing against the plan. Two groups opposed to the pipeline — the Stop MVP and People vs. Fossil Fuels coalitions — have called for a protest against “Manchin’s dirty deal” outside the Capitol on Thursday.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., in August left open the possibility of attaching permitting legislation to the funding bill but stopped short of endorsing the idea ahead of discussing it with the caucus. Democratic opposition to the provisions could sway leaders to leave it out of the funding extension.
If it gets buy-in from opposing Democrats, the permitting proposal would also need to get past Republicans.
Some Republicans have criticized the plan, despite previous GOP support for similar changes, including when Donald Trump was president.
But with no final permitting language released yet, it’s uncertain where Republicans would end up. One person familiar with House GOP thinking said Republicans in that chamber are unlikely to oppose the stopgap — or support it — based solely on permitting changes that might be in the funding bill.
Senate Republicans might show greater opposition, particularly since they feel burned by Manchin's about-face that led to final passage of the filibuster-proof climate, health and tax bill that no Republicans supported. But it also could be a tough vote for Republicans, since the GOP has typically supported moves to make environmental reviews for energy infrastructure projects less burdensome.
Some Republicans doubt that Democratic leaders are serious about moving the permitting changes, since, they say, there are no bipartisan conversations underway about the legislation.
The Manchin proposal also could go forward as a stand-alone bill. Or it's possible Schumer and Manchin agree to put off consideration until after the election.
Since the commitment was to move the legislation rather than pass it, the Senate could take up the bill and reject it — even if it can get through the House. But any Senate amendments to the CR would kick it back to the House for another vote, without much time remaining before the shutdown deadline.
Even stopgap bills depicted as “clean” typically contain spending revisions and extensions of expiring programs. Some number of expiring authorizations are apt to ride on the temporary spending bill, as is often the case.
These include user fees charged to pharmaceutical companies to pay for the Food and Drug Administration’s review of prescription drugs and other medical products, according to sources.
The House has passed an FDA user fee reauthorization bill, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel has reported out its own version. But it's not clear lawmakers will be able to reconcile their differences in time to pass a separate, multiyear FDA bill before Oct. 1 when the agency's ability to collect those fees will run out.
Lawmakers are also likely to consider extending an expiring requirement that meatpackers report livestock prices to the Agriculture Department.
Congress extended the authorization for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in the fiscal 2022 omnibus, but that expires Sept. 30. Since 2010, Congress has funded the block grant program with a series of short-term extensions.
Another lapsing authorization that's routinely extended is the National Flood Insurance Program's ability to write new policies and renew existing ones.
Those and other program extensions are included on a White House list of possible provisions that could be added to the CR if separate legislation isn't enacted first.
There's also an ongoing push for additional funding for the World Trade Center Health Program, which provides medical monitoring and treatment to victims of the 9/11 attacks, including first responders and other survivors. New York lawmakers have said the program needs a $3 billion infusion to prevent a reduction in services beginning Oct. 1, 2024.
Money for the World Trade Center program was included in the House-passed version of the budget reconciliation law but wasn't included in the final version.
If the mid-December timeline holds, the stopgap measure in theory would give appropriations leaders plenty of time to strike a deal after the midterm elections on funding levels and policy riders and write an omnibus bill to cover the remainder of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2023.
But it's unclear what appetite congressional leaders and the rank and file will have for a complex negotiation involving thousands of pages of legislation in a lame-duck session after the midterms.
If Republicans take back one or both chambers, there's a school of thought that says they will insist on simply punting the issue into the new year with a longer-term stopgap extension. It also may not be clear what the outcome of Senate control will be until after Dec. 6 if the Georgia race goes to a runoff, which could leave little time for a burst of legislative action before lawmakers wrap up the 117th Congress.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.