Signs of life for omnibus deal as negotiators make headway

Democrats to hold off on introducing their own version, with renewed hopes for bipartisan accord

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., are working to navigate caucus concerns on any spending deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., are working to navigate caucus concerns on any spending deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 11, 2022 at 7:39pm

House and Senate appropriators made enough progress in bipartisan discussions over the weekend that Democrats are putting on hold plans to introduce their own versions of a fiscal 2023 omnibus and yearlong stopgap funding bill.

Democrats had been threatening to introduce both measures on Monday to try to force Republicans' hands. But people familiar with the discussions said they were productive enough that appropriations aides scrapped their planned weekend “readout” of the Democrat-written omnibus, a key meeting in which staff go ever each line of the text to weed out any errors before formal introduction.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., "feels that sufficient progress in negotiations took place over the weekend to delay the introduction of the omnibus appropriations bill for the time being. Bipartisan and bicameral negotiations continue," a Senate Democratic aide said Sunday.

Similarly, as of Sunday night, House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., wasn't expected to introduce the yearlong continuing resolution on Monday that she'd been saying was the only way out of the stalemate if Republicans wouldn't budge on the chief sticking point — nondefense spending levels.

[Thin House majorities, current and future, color spending talks]

However, a full-year CR remains on the table as a fallback, but with a twist that could make it more palatable: it would contain lawmakers' earmarks secured in earlier versions of the fiscal 2023 appropriations bills.

The decision to delay the partisan pressure tactics signaled new optimism that congressional leaders could finally reach a deal in the coming days on topline discretionary spending levels for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Congress must pass an omnibus bill or another stopgap measure by midnight Friday to avoid a partial government shutdown when the current continuing resolution expires.

Even if a deal is reached soon, however, there would not be enough time to get an omnibus bill written and passed in both chambers before Friday’s deadline. Lawmakers were expected to take up a stopgap bill extending current funding through Dec. 23 this week if a framework deal is at hand that appropriators can use to write the full-year package.

If neither an omnibus agreement or full-year CR can be agreed to by both parties, a short-term continuing resolution into early next year becomes the fallback option.

Republicans had already made clear their opposition to the Democratic-written omnibus bill because it was expected to increase nondefense spending by more than they would like. GOP appropriators have said Democrats are seeking about $26 billion more in nondefense spending than they consider reasonable.

While both sides have agreed to about $858 billion in defense spending — a roughly 10 percent increase over last year’s level — the disparity over nondefense spending has held up a deal for weeks.

Republicans likewise oppose a full-year stopgap measure. Among other negative outcomes, the Pentagon has warned a yearlong CR would leave it short of cash and threaten military operations and maintenance, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has said it could shortchange needed medical care funds, including for the new toxic exposure benefit law enacted this summer.

The Biden administration has prepared for that possibility. It submitted a list of "anomalies", or asks for billions of extra dollars for homeland security, health programs and more that it said would be required above what a flat-funded continuing resolution would provide.

Still, numerous agencies and programs could get the short end of the stick, and billions of dollars in home-state earmarks could be scrapped under the White House's proposal. While appropriators' yearlong CR as drafted might not fully alleviate agencies' pain, at least lawmakers — including retiring ones like Leahy and Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala. — would get their earmarks funded.