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Senate leans toward Dec. 16 stopgap funding bill

Pandemic funding an obstacle as leaders aim to keep government open past elections

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is among those in his party OK with wrapping up spending bills this year.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is among those in his party OK with wrapping up spending bills this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate leaders appear to be on board with an interim spending measure that will keep the government operating until Dec. 16, which is also the preferred expiration date for House Democrats as they prep a continuing resolution for a vote as soon as next week.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said Wednesday that Democrats would like the CR through Dec. 16; Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said it would run through mid-December.

Top Republicans including Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky deferred to Democrats on the timing but didn’t express any objections to the mid-December date.

But navigating the evenly divided Senate to get the 60 votes needed to advance the as-yet-unwritten stopgap funding bill will likely require tough negotiations regarding pandemic-related funding, among other issues.

President Joe Biden requested $47.1 billion in emergency funds as part of his administration’s CR proposal, parts of which may face opposition from Republicans who want a mostly “clean” stopgap without additional spending.

Biden’s supplemental request includes $22.4 billion for COVID-19, $4.5 billion for monkeypox, $13.7 billion for Ukraine-related aid and $6.5 billion for natural disaster aid. While military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine has seen widespread support in Congress, Republicans have rejected additional requests for pandemic-related spending since last year.

‘As clean as possible’

McConnell said Wednesday that a CR should be “as clean as possible” to keep the government fully operational without controversy.

McConnell and other Republicans were open to including more Ukraine spending. But the level they’d agree to is unclear after lawmakers approved $54 billion in emergency aid in two batches earlier this year.

“Ukraine is obviously a priority for most of us on both sides of the aisle,” McConnell said. “We’ll have to see what they’re requesting and how much of it is actually designed to help Ukraine wage the war.”

The administration’s proposal features $7.2 billion in military aid and $4.5 billion in direct budget support for the Ukrainian government.

Shelby said the White House’s supplemental request includes “some things that you probably don’t need.” He specifically questioned if there’s a “real need” for more COVID-19 funding, but he was more amenable to including Ukraine aid.

The administration’s credibility is “not what it needs to be to pass a big bill with big numbers without a whole lot more specificity,” Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Roy Blunt said Wednesday.

Blunt, R-Mo., cited the administration’s ability to find alternative funding sources for pandemic-related spending after continuously warning it couldn’t provide for vaccines, therapeutics and testing supplies without new appropriations.

But if the administration can make the case for its supplemental request, Blunt said Republicans would likely agree to some funding without demanding offsets, as they did in the past in negotiations over the stalled pandemic aid.

[Stopgap funding bill set to dominate September agenda]

“I imagine there’d be enough people that would be willing to do this as an emergency supplemental if it was well explained,” he said of the COVID-19 and monkeypox requests. “Just like they probably would be willing to do disaster relief as an emergency if you truly understand it and they explain what the emergency is.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who negotiated a $10 billion agreement for offset pandemic spending earlier this summer that was scrapped by Republicans, said more COVID-19 spending faces long odds.

“This has no offsets at all. I think it has very limited prospects, at least on our side of the aisle,” Romney said.

Schumer said Ukraine needs more help, and the U.S. needs to be prepared for both COVID-19 and monkeypox. “It’s disgraceful Republicans are playing political games with this when the health of the nation is at stake,” he said.

Same-sex marriage

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats were considering adding legislation that would codify same-sex marriage rights to the CR, but they are now moving away from that approach.

Schumer said a floor vote on same-sex marriage will happen in the coming weeks, and the party prefers to take up the legislation separate from the CR.

Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, who are leading their chamber’s push on same-sex marriage legislation, both said they prefer the vote take place separately from the stopgap.

Democrats also plan to include energy infrastructure permitting legislation sought by Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., in the CR, Schumer said Wednesday.

Manchin and Schumer agreed to move permitting legislation before Sept. 30 as part of the negotiations that culminated in Manchin supporting the Democrats’ climate, health care and tax reconciliation bill. Both said Wednesday that would be attached to the stopgap.

“Our intention is to add it to the CR, absolutely,” Schumer said. But whether the permitting bill, which hasn’t yet been introduced and faces opposition from House progressives, can pass in both chambers remains an open question.

“We’re hoping people will see what’s inside and what it does, how much good it is for the country,” Manchin told reporters.

‘Big, big, big finish’

A CR through mid-December would pave the way for a potential fiscal 2023 appropriations agreement during the lame-duck period between the November midterm elections and the start of the new year.

“We prefer to get an omnibus deal done before the end of the year. We think there are a good number of Republicans who agree with that,” Schumer said. “We’re hoping the CR will go until mid-December, and then we might do an omnibus.”

Republicans appear split on whether or not the party should pursue an omnibus agreement during the lame-duck session.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said in a statement Wednesday the CR should continue until the next Congress is sworn in. Scott, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has clashed with McConnell on their approaches to the midterm elections and what policies Republicans should pursue.

Other Republicans are more amenable to a lame-duck agreement before both parties’ appropriations leaders retire at the end of the year.

“I was with Sen. Leahy and Sen. Shelby, I think that’s their plan,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. “They’re going to have a big, big, big finish.”

Laura Weiss contributed to this report.

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