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Forecast for security spending remains cloudy

Short-term spending bill, funds for Israel, Ukraine and more all at issue

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Tuesday. He has said his chamber won't consider the House's stand-alone Israel aid bill.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on Tuesday. He has said his chamber won't consider the House's stand-alone Israel aid bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The outlook for U.S. national security funding is up in the air with only a little more than a week to go until another potential government-shutdown showdown.

At issue is a continuing resolution to keep the Pentagon, not to mention other departments, operating for a few more weeks, as well as proposed emergency funding for Israel, Ukraine and other overseas priorities — and maybe some nondefense emergency money.

The House and Senate are far apart on how to provide these appropriations, as are the two political parties within each chamber. Divisions may even be deepening over everything from border security to a gestating House proposal to enact continuing resolutions of different durations for different departments.

As is often the case, the Pentagon’s appropriations may hinge on matters that have little or nothing to do with defense.

Senate going big

In the Senate, there seems to be a bipartisan consensus to fund most of President Joe Biden’s $106 billion request for arming and providing humanitarian aid to Israel and Ukraine as well as to enhance deterrence against China.

Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., said on the floor Tuesday that all these security priorities should be included in a single supplemental bill.

“There is strong support here in Congress to address these urgent priorities in one package — and that is exactly what I am working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do now,” Murray said.

Murray and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, have said they plan to write a bipartisan supplemental bill.

Collins said Tuesday she wants to bankroll the president’s requested security priorities — plus one other objective that is dear to GOP hearts.

“It’s evident to me that a supplemental should have four parts: one, assistance to Ukraine to fight Russian aggression, help for Israel to fight terrorism, a deterrence section that is aimed at China, and a very strong border security provision,” Collins told reporters.

Border battle

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, as well as the House, differ on how much to spend on security on the U.S.-Mexico border — and on what programs and policies. That is shaping up to be a big bone of contention in talks over appropriations.

GOP Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Tom Cotton of Arkansas made public on Monday a proposal they said would tighten up a porous southern border.

“I think it will be difficult to get the package across in the Senate without a credible border solution,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday, referring to the supplemental.

But Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in floor remarks Tuesday, called the GOP proposals “nonstarters.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, replied to Schumer on X, formerly Twitter, by saying at least 41 Republican senators “will refuse to proceed unless and until substantive policy changes are included that will stop the #BidenBorderCrisis.”

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told reporters: “For Republicans, our line in the sand is the Rio Grande.”

Open questions

Another possible stumbling block for any emergency spending bill is the question of whether Biden’s request for $56 billion in nondefense supplemental spending will be included.

Democrats are sure to push for this spending, which would go to child care, disaster relief and more. But even relatively moderate Senate Republicans are going to push back.

Collins told reporters she does not support including Biden’s domestic supplemental request in the security supplemental, and Collins is undoubtedly reflecting a widespread GOP view on that point.

Another open question is whether the Senate will attach another continuing resolution to whatever bipartisan supplemental Murray and Collins write.

The stopgap law that funds the government expires Nov. 17.

If only because of the few days remaining on the calendar before then, the supplemental may need to be combined with the next CR, even if the House does not want it that way.

Stopgap politics

Senators appear to be coalescing around temporarily extending federal budget authorities with a continuing resolution that runs through perhaps Dec. 8.

By comparison, in the House, it is not clear how long a CR might last or what supplemental funding, if any, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., would attach to that chamber’s developing CR.

Johnson told reporters Tuesday he is not ruling out including Israel funding in a stopgap bill.

“I’m not going to tell you what the CR will entail yet, but I will tell you that we are urging consistently and very appropriately to get Israel done,” he said. “It’s an urgent necessity.”

The House passed last week a supplemental bill that includes only the $14.3 billion Biden requested to help Israel — but no other elements of the president’s security supplemental request.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., tried unsuccessfully to get unanimous consent to bring the House’s Israel supplemental to the Senate floor Tuesday. Murray objected.

The same House bill also contains a $14.3 billion cut to tax enforcement that is anathema to Democrats and that the Congressional Budget Office says will add a net $12 billion-plus to the deficit over a decade. So that purported offset seems unlikely to advance further.

Johnson said Tuesday he is eyeing two possibilities for a CR.

One would run through mid January with “certain stipulations,” on which he did not elaborate.

The other — a so-called “laddered” CR — would extend some agencies’ spending power through December and others through January.

Under this still-developing plan, the Defense Department would likely be among those with funding expiring in December, when — in theory at least — a fresh fiscal 2024 bill could be cleared.

The House has passed its Defense bill, but the Senate has not.

House Republicans seem divided on the ladder idea. And Collins told reporters Tuesday she is opposed.

“I truly do not understand how that would work, because it would be stop-and-go government,” Collins told reporters. “It would be so confusing and would create a lot of chaos.”

Gordian knot

It is far from clear how this appropriations imbroglio will be resolved.

With so many moving parts, it appears likely that clarity will not be found until next week, perhaps not even until Nov. 17 — if then.

With partisan divisions so deep, a government shutdown is a real possibility.

Schumer has already said the Senate will not consider the House’s Israel-only supplemental.

And it is a safe bet that a House-passed CR would be ignored or altered, perhaps by amending it to add whatever bipartisan supplemental that senators can come up with.

Then it will be up to the House — faced with a CR-supplemental combo of $100 billion or more — to either take it or leave it. And leaving it could spell a halt of some length to government operations.

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