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Short-term stopgap bill appears likely as funding talks drag

Final budget allocations for Appropriations subcommittees aren’t ready yet as time dwindles

Minority Whip John Thune is seen after the Senate luncheons in the Capitol on Tuesday.
Minority Whip John Thune is seen after the Senate luncheons in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Lawmakers in both parties Tuesday acknowledged the necessity of a short-term stopgap spending bill to allow appropriators time to work through final fiscal 2024 funding measures following this weekend’s topline deal

Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, are currently negotiating joint subcommittee allocations with the goal of finalizing those by Friday, sources familiar with the talks say.

Without those final numbers, appropriators can’t finish drafting the bills. And meanwhile lawmakers are facing a Jan. 19 deadline to pass funding for agencies covered by the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD measures. Without the full-year bills or at least a stopgap bill signed into law by then, those agencies’ funding would partially lapse.

Some important functions like veterans health care would continue to operate since they have advance funding that was previously appropriated, and others would continue even without funding because they are considered critical for public safety, like air traffic controllers. But other functions would cease, and even staff who aren’t furloughed wouldn’t be paid for work done during that period until full funding is restored.

Appropriations for the other eight bills, covering 80 percent of discretionary spending, including massive agencies like the Pentagon and Health and Human Services, will lapse after Feb. 2. 

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has vowed that the continuing resolution he put on the floor in November would be the last short-term stopgap measure.

However, despite the topline deal, finalizing full-year appropriations will take weeks of negotiation and require more time; the first four bills would need to be on the floor next week to beat the Jan. 19 deadline, a timeline which seems all but impossible to meet. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that “obviously” another CR would be necessary, though he said he didn’t know how long it should last. 

One option under consideration is a stopgap that would go until March 1, which would allow ample time for appropriators to get their work done. Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said Tuesday that a stopgap until March may be necessary.  

“What that looks like next week, and where it originates, House or Senate, remains to be seen,” Thune said. “But we’re going to keep the government open.”

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., the Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member, said it will be “impossible” to wrap up the bills by the deadline next Friday. 

“You don’t have to be a Latin scholar to figure out we don’t have much time left,” Kennedy said. “But I still remain optimistic that we ultimately get something worked out. But I do think we’re going to have to have additional time.” 

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee chair, also said a short-term stopgap would be needed. 

Riders, earmarks 

Among other divisions on spending bills, there remains no agreement yet on policy riders. Democrats maintain they are not open to any new partisan policy changes on issues ranging from gun rights to abortion that GOP lawmakers inserted into House spending bills.

“We will not be able to get any of our bills done if House Republicans insist on partisan poison pills that we all know are nonstarters,” Murray said Tuesday. “So let me repeat: Democrats will not accept Republican poison pill changes. No changes — period.” 

However, House Republicans have vowed to fight for policy wins, and Johnson said in a Sunday letter to his conference that the topline deal would allow House Republicans to advocate for policy riders they included in their fiscal 2024 bills. 

Another aspect of the bills that is not yet settled is earmarks, sources familiar with the talks say. Typically, all of the projects funded in both appropriations bills are included, with duplicates eliminated. 

One potential point of contention will be the three earmarks relating to LGBTQ programming that were stripped from the House’s Transportation-HUD bill. House Republicans eliminated these projects from the bill in a markup this summer, enraging House Democrats. 

Two of the three received some funding in Senate appropriations bills. The Transportation-HUD measure included $1 million for the William Way Community Center in Philadelphia that Rep. Brendan F. Boyle, D-Pa., had sought, and the Labor-HHS-Education bill had $850,000 for LGBTQ Senior Housing, Inc. in Boston that Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass., requested. 

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., asked for $970,000 for a transitional housing program at the LGBT Center of Greater Reading that Republicans eliminated from the legislation. Democrats are expected to push for that funding to be restored in the final package. 

If Johnson brings to the floor final bills with those projects included, he risks angering those in his conference who pushed to strip earmarks for causes they labeled “woke.”

David Lerman contributed to this report.

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