House Pushes ‘Dozen Bills or None’ Approach to Spending Talks
WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders are insisting that all 12 overdue spending bills for the current fiscal year must be finalized before any of them can reach the floor, according to sources familiar with strategy talks.
The demand for some kind of grand bargain could complicate hopes for completion of at least a portion of fiscal 2020 appropriations before stopgap funding runs dry on Dec. 20 and Congress adjourns for the winter holidays. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said Tuesday that he doubts all 12 bills could be finalized before the Dec. 20 deadline. “That would be a monumental achievement to do that, and it would be hard,” he said.
Underlying the procedural spat is a partisan struggle to gain leverage in final negotiations on spending priorities for the fiscal year that is already more than two months old. Senate Democrats have blocked a defense spending bill from coming to a floor vote, for example, partly because of the border wall fight and partly because they are leery of passing a top Republican priority before winning assurances for some nondefense spending measures.
“The Republicans have an appetite for the military and the Department of Defense,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the top Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “We want to make sure it’s balanced and includes other bills,” including the Labor-HHS-Education bill, Durbin said of Democrats.
Even if lawmakers could finalize all 12 bills, it’s not clear they would have enough time to get them all written and passed by the Dec. 20 deadline. While year-end spending deals are sometimes packaged into a single omnibus measure, President Donald Trump has vowed never to sign another $1 trillion-plus omnibus that gets little scrutiny because of the time crunch.
Appropriators have talked about passing final bills in smaller bundles, thereby avoiding the dreaded omnibus. But even that approach could take considerable time if Congress intends to encompass all 12 bills within the next three weeks. And if that task proves too burdensome, it’s now not clear, given the demand of House Democrats, whether Congress would get any of the measures passed this month or if it would have to resort to another stopgap continuing resolution that simply extends current funding levels to avoid a government shutdown.
While most lawmakers have said they oppose a full-year continuing resolution, approving another short-term one that extends funding into next February or March comes with its own set of problems. The Senate could be bogged down with an impeachment trial early next year if the House votes to impeach Trump this month. And the rising partisan tensions over impeachment could make it harder to resolve final spending bills by then.
“If we don’t work something out toward the end of this week or the next 10 days after that … I think it’s inevitable we’re going to get a CR,” Shelby said, referring to a continuing resolution. “We’re probably going to get on past maybe January and go from there.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said the larger spending bills like his need to be completed this week to have any chance of getting passed before the recess. “If we take more than the rest of this week, it gets hard for bigger bills to get done,” he said.
Yet the Labor-HHS bill faces it own partisan policy disputes that could derail a final compromise. House Democrats, for instance, have insisted on providing $50 million for gun violence research, a move that has troubled Republicans who see it as an effort toward future gun control. “When you start talking about guns and the Second Amendment gets involved, then you get polarization up here,” Shelby said.
The procedural squabble is only the latest setback to an appropriations process that has been stymied for months and already required two stopgap measures to avoid a shutdown. Congressional leaders thought they had cleared a major hurdle last summer when they passed a bipartisan budget deal that raised the limits on discretionary spending to make them more politically palatable to both parties.
And over the Thanksgiving recess, appropriators reached a deal on how to divvy up the year’s $1.37 trillion in discretionary spending among all 12 bills. But a time crunch, and lack of agreement on specific policy measures, continues to threaten passage of a year-end spending package.
David Lerman contributed to this report.
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