Top Democrats are playing hardball on government funding with just over a week before federal agencies run out of budget authority after next Friday night.
House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro told reporters Thursday that she’s not currently drafting any stopgap funding extension short of a full-year bill running to Sept. 30, 2023, and won’t consider doing so unless Republicans come to the bargaining table on topline funding levels.
“We’ve got to … break a logjam here,” DeLauro said. “Otherwise, we’re going to a yearlong [continuing resolution] and that’s for sure.”
The Connecticut Democrat said she was working on certain “anomalies” to lessen the blow of a stopgap, which typically funds most agencies and programs at prior-year levels, that lasts the rest of fiscal 2023.
But that’s still unlikely to meet the priorities of either side of the aisle in year-end spending talks. The two parties are arguing over whether the total discretionary topline should grow by either 9 or 10 percent, underscoring both sides’ wish to counteract the effects of inflation running near 40-year highs.
While there’s no divide over defense spending, domestic and foreign aid accounts have proven to be an intractable problem thus far; Republicans say the difference is over roughly $25 billion, though Democrats dispute that figure.
And given both parties’ commitment to a 22 percent boost for veterans medical care in any final deal, Democrats fear that GOP figures would squeeze other nondefense spending so it wouldn’t actually keep pace with rampant inflation.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that given the military and veterans’ needs backed by both parties, Republicans weren’t offering enough money to meet other priorities.
“We may just have to go to a CR, which would be most unfortunate, but we have to weigh it against how unfortunate it would be if they cannibalized the domestic budget at the expense of the defense budget,” Pelosi said. “We need them both.”
Democratic aides said that point isn’t lost on their members, particularly in the House. And that could impact votes for a bill that doesn’t address inflationary pressures and top nondefense priorities — shared by Republicans — such as medical research, agricultural support and small-business aid.
Republicans, in turn, argue there’s enough unnecessary spending in the nondefense category, such as increases Democrats have proposed for the IRS and climate initiatives, that could be cut to make room for shared priorities.
Pelosi said the “strong preference” of Democrats is a bipartisan omnibus bill, and she said she still saw a pathway to achieving that. However, without a deal, Democrats would put forward a full-year CR.
“I don’t like that, but it’s much better than poison that might befall us in a different kind of bill,” she said.
Such comments from DeLauro and Pelosi up the stakes ahead of the Dec. 16 deadline laid out in the first CR, and Democrats across the Capitol appear to be backing up her threat.
“I think we should keep the heat on, and try to get this done before we leave,” Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, DeLauro’s Connecticut colleague and top Democrat on Homeland Security appropriations, said. “I don’t think we need to concede on a short-term CR. We can get a budget done.”
However, there’s some question about whether their party — the party of government — is willing to force a partial federal shutdown just a few days before Christmas. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer was less emphatic about sticking to a full-year CR in his floor remarks Thursday morning.
“I want to remind everyone … that fully funding the government is the best outcome not only for the public, but for our service members in uniform who work day and night to keep us safe,” Schumer said. “Short-term extensions will hinder their ability to work at full capacity.”
In a last-ditch effort to spur a new round of negotiations, DeLauro and Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said they would introduce their own omnibus bill Monday that they said is being written to win Republican backing. Leahy said the bill would fund defense at the level Republicans want and increase nondefense spending enough “to stave off inflation and serve the American people.”
He also said the measure “eliminated the so-called poison pill riders that Republicans have objected to. We firmly believe that this bill can and should earn the votes of at least 10 Republican senators,” the minimum needed to pass the bill with united Democratic support.
But Republicans quickly dismissed that effort as futile.
“It’s already failed before it starts,” said Alabama Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the Senate’s top GOP appropriator. “It’s going nowhere. It might come out of the House, but it will go nowhere in the Senate.”
DeLauro said she would not rule out supporting a short-term CR of a week or so if a bipartisan deal could be reached and lawmakers just needed some extra days to get the bill written.
While both sides have agreed to about $858 billion in defense spending — a roughly 10 percent increase over last year’s level — the Democratic push for more nondefense spending would exceed President Joe Biden’s total discretionary budget request, raising it from nearly $1.65 trillion to about $1.67 trillion.
Republicans, who pushed for “parity” in recent years between defense and nondefense increases, now say defense funding deserves more than parity because Democrats pushed through trillions of dollars in pandemic aid and a climate change, health care and tax package through a partisan budget reconciliation process.
Leahy pushed back on that argument Thursday, saying it was unfair to count emergency reconciliation spending as part of regular nondefense appropriations.
“The flaw in this reasoning is that this spending was to meet an unprecedented crisis that killed more than 1 million Americans and threatened to collapse the global economy,” Leahy said. “They were not meant to fund the basic functions of the American government in fiscal year 2023.”
But Republican appropriators made clear they were unwilling to sign on to a Democratic-written omnibus bill, even those like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina some Democrats thought might be amenable.
“That will hit a wall pretty quickly,” Graham, the ranking Republican on the Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, said. “Huge mistake, by the way.”
And Graham said he would also oppose a full-year CR that would leave most programs on autopilot. “I can’t think of a better move to destroy the military than that,” he said.
House Financial Services Appropriations ranking member Steve Womack, R-Ark., added that “the only thing a … yearlong CR does is it proves that Congress is incompetent.”