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House, Senate negotiators set to meet on omnibus funding

Clock runs out on Dec. 16, though there's talk of a stopgap extension to buy time

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer address the media after a meeting with President Joe Biden on Tuesday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also attended.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer address the media after a meeting with President Joe Biden on Tuesday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also attended. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congressional leaders and top appropriators are set to meet as early as Wednesday to work through differences on a potential omnibus spending agreement, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, along with a few top White House aides, met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Schumer earlier Tuesday to discuss the lame-duck agenda.

Schumer said the leaders had a “productive discussion” about funding the government, and said all four leaders aim to come together to pass an omnibus.

“We all agreed that it should be done this year, we all agreed we have to work together and everyone has to give a little bit,” he said. “We also…said we would all work toward getting an omnibus as opposed to a CR.”

The prospects of a lame duck omnibus remain murky as Republicans and Democrats have not reached a topline spending agreement. The current continuing resolution runs out Dec. 16, though lawmakers have discussed a stopgap extension of perhaps a week to buy extra time.

“We each laid out our criteria for the omnibus. Obviously, they’re different,” Schumer told reporters after returning from the White House meeting. “But we’ve agreed to sit down as early as tomorrow, the four appropriators and the four leaders, to try and resolve the issue and avoid any government shutdown.”

Schumer later said the door is now open to discussing an omnibus, “which it wasn’t a few days ago, because no one knew where everybody was at.”

‘Astronomical increases’

McConnell said that while there is widespread agreement an omnibus is better than a CR, Republicans want increased defense spending and more funding for Ukraine.

“Our feeling is that the Democrats have met a number of their domestic priorities previously” through 2021’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package and this year’s budget reconciliation law, which contained roughly $450 billion in clean energy and health care-related spending, McConnell said.

“And they’re insistent on continuing to request astronomical increases on the nondefense, domestic side, is a sticking point,” McConnell said. “So that’s where we are and we’re going to keep talking to each other and hopefully work this out.”

McConnell said it is a “difficult choice” between pursuing a full-year CR, which would keep spending levels flat, or pursuing an omnibus, which would allow for increased defense spending and more Ukraine aid. 

“I have members in a variety of different positions on this,” he said. “I think the way forward is to continue to discuss it and to see what’s in the best interest of the country, see how many people we can bring together on both sides of the aisle, and to figure out how to finish up this year before Christmas.” 

House Republicans are willing to punt government funding into January if no agreement is reached, McCarthy said. Republicans will have a slim House majority in the next Congress.

“CRs are not where we want to be, but if we cannot get our work done now, the outgoing majority, if they don’t want to work with us, we can get this work done in January as well,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said he wants to cut discretionary spending below the fiscal 2022 enacted level, which was a little over $1.5 trillion. By contrast, House and Senate Democrats’ proposed spending bills would appropriate closer to $1.7 trillion.

Within those figures, Senate Democratic appropriators have proposed closer to the “parity” Republicans have sought between defense and nondefense programs than House Democrats.

But even the Senate split amounts to a 9 percent boost for defense versus 12 percent for nondefense. Although the latter includes areas like homeland security and veterans medical care, Republicans still view that as an uneven allocation.

On top of that, the Biden administration wants an additional $85 billion in supplemental aid designated as emergency funding, though much of that is aid to Ukraine and disaster relief members of both parties support.

“I look at overall, they have spent trillions of dollars and put us into inflation,” McCarthy said after returning to the Capitol from the meeting. “We’ve got to get our country under control. We’ve got to get ourselves back to a balanced budget.”

McCarthy said he was aiming to prevent “runaway spending,” make America energy independent and secure the border.

“If we can’t get common sense in appropriation bills then yes, we’ll support a CR and fix this come January,” he said.

Stopgap warning

The Biden administration and top Democrats have been warning of the danger that the two parties may not be able to come together at all, however, and instead resort to a full-year stopgap bill.

The Pentagon has already laid out the consequences of such a move on that department, and the White House is preparing contingencies lawmakers will need to consider if they can’t reach agreement on the regular spending bills.

“We don’t prefer that,” Pelosi said of the prospect of a yearlong CR. “We don’t think it’s a good idea.”

House Budget Chair John Yarmuth, D-K.y., said Democrats will have more leverage if they negotiate a yearlong stopgap measure in the lame duck before they lose control of the House next year.

A yearlong CR would give government agencies more certainty about funding next year and avoid a government shutdown scenario in a Republican-controlled House in January if there were a shorter stopgap bill, he said. 

Pelosi’s suggestion of a yearlong CR if an agreement can’t be reached on an omnibus is “a good negotiating strategy because that’s not the alternative that I think would appeal to any of the Republicans,” Yarmuth said. 

It’s not clear a full-year stopgap measure would appeal to many top Democrats, either. 

“I think it’s a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad idea,” Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Tuesday. “And I said that without even cussing, because I could have cussed.”

Paul M. Krawzak, Lindsey McPherson, Laura Weiss and David Lerman contributed to this report.

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