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Negotiations at standstill on omnibus spending package

Without a bipartisan deal, another stopgap spending bill or a partial government shutdown are possibilities

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., shown in the Capitol on Nov. 14, is proceeding on an omnibus bill without GOP support.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., shown in the Capitol on Nov. 14, is proceeding on an omnibus bill without GOP support. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Bipartisan talks on an overdue fiscal 2023 spending package have stalled, with Democrats and Republicans accusing each other of resisting an agreement.

If negotiators cannot get the talks back on track, the result could be another stopgap spending bill into next year or potentially a partial government shutdown that neither party said it wants.

The two sides made a modicum of progress earlier this week, agreeing Monday night on the earmarks that would be in a final omnibus package that is already nearly two months late.

But Tuesday night, sources said Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., began writing an omnibus bill without any bipartisan agreement as hopes dimmed for passing the measure before current funding runs out on Dec. 16. Democrats are writing the omnibus to include “priorities from both sides” as well as earmarks from both sides in an effort to “create a bill that can attract bipartisan support,” a person familiar with the effort said.

The decision to proceed on their own without GOP support, first reported by Punchbowl News, underscored the growing frustration over omnibus negotiations for the current fiscal year that stalled for months in a partisan standoff over spending levels for defense and nondefense programs. The talks were further strained in recent weeks by the uncertainty over the midterm elections.

With little more than three weeks left before stopgap funding expires, another continuing resolution may be needed to extend current funding until Dec. 23 or possibly for an additional week even if negotiations resume, according to sources familiar with the talks. House GOP negotiators are pressing for another short-term spending bill, sources said.

Trading blame

With Republicans now poised to take control of the House in the next Congress, the GOP may have additional leverage in the talks. Some GOP House conservatives are pushing to delay spending decisions until next year when their party has the majority.

“The country needs an omnibus, not a CR to next year,” said a Senate Democratic aide, referring to a continuing resolution. “We are running out of time and we are losing patience with [Republicans]. It is time to get moving.”

The aide said Leahy “is determined to write bipartisan bills that can pass the Senate and the House and be signed into law.” He added that “despite Republicans’ refusal to work with us, this is not a partisan exercise, and these are certainly not the bills we would write if it were completely up to us.”

Republicans slammed the effort.

“They have been told that their approach will not garner sufficient Republican support, and yet they persist,” a Senate GOP aide said. “This isn’t an attempt to get an agreement. It’s a repeat of the Dems’ worn-out tactic of generating a shutdown crisis unnecessarily.”

The GOP aide said Democrats “are now on a fast track to a CR into next year that they claim they don’t want. This is not a formula for success unless a CR is what they want.”

Republicans have complained that Democrats are being unreasonable in insisting on an excessive increase in nondefense spending, sources said.

Modicum of progress

But negotiators have made some modest headway, including an agreement reached Monday night on earmarks that would become part of the final spending package that was under negotiation between the Democratic chairs and Republican ranking members of the Appropriations committees.

Even so, the earmarks deal may have been the easiest part of the process. The congressionally directed spending items were requested by lawmakers of both parties. Negotiators had been working on an earmark agreement for some time and each chamber had set aside about $8 billion for earmarks in their respective appropriations bills. According to one former congressional aide, that agreement provides motivation for leaders to reach a larger deal.

Before a final omnibus can be written, appropriators need to reach a deal on a conference framework that would set out topline spending for defense and nondefense programs, allocations for each subcommittee and other decisions such as whether or not to wall off veterans medical care from other nondefense spending as Democrats are advocating.

Any agreement that is reached is widely expected to have higher defense spending and lower nondefense spending than House and Senate Democrats have written into their bills, and is expected to jettison Democratic language on abortion and some other policy matters.

The House passed six of its 12 annual bills in one combined package last summer. The Senate has not passed any, nor has that chamber’s Appropriations panel marked up any of them.

Congressional staff also have prepared the necessary paperwork for a negotiation, including conference notes that show the differences between individual items in House and Senate bills.

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