Current government funding lasts through Nov. 21, and congressional leaders agree another short-term funding fix will be needed as appropriations talks stretch on.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi privately concurred this week that the next continuing resolution shouldn’t drag funding beyond Dec. 31, a deadline meant to pressure negotiators to finish all 12 spending bills before the end of the calendar year.
Serious political divisions continue to vex the appropriations process, however, including disagreement over how to pay for the border wall and Trump’s ability to shuffle federal money to build that barrier, as well as decisions on how much to allocate for big domestic priorities like health care.
While Shelby said Thursday that it would be ideal to clear all of the fiscal 2020 funding measures by the end of December, he noted that a “compressed” timeline, crunched by impeachment proceedings, adds to the impediments that make that spending goal tough to achieve.
“It would be a wonderful thing to do — do all of our approps, do all that. Could it be done? It could be done. The question is: Will it be done?” the chairman said about the aspiration of completely wrapping up appropriations work by year’s end.
On Thursday, the Senate couldn’t even get past the first procedural hurdle to begin debate on a package to fund the Pentagon and the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, State, Energy and Labor. That second minibus tanked in a 51-41 procedural vote, needing the support of 60 senators to advance.
Senate Democrats overwhelmingly objected to starting debate on the second bundle, protesting that Republican leaders have not engaged the chamber’s minority party in negotiating bipartisan spending levels on the Senate’s versions of the funding bills.
Democrats argue that their GOP colleagues have instead set unreasonably low totals for measures like the Labor-HHS-Education bill, which would receive a 1 percent increase over current funding levels, while bills like the Senate’s version of the Energy-Water bill would get a more than 9 percent boost.
Shelby said that disagreements over top-line funding for the Labor-HHS-Education bill and money for the border wall are the top two issues holding up all of the spending measures.
However, the chairman has also said passage of the non-controversial minibus could inject new life into gridlocked negotiations. The House and Senate could kick-start conference talks, at least on the bipartisan four-bill bundle.
That minibus which the Senate did succeed in passingin an 84-9vote, wraps together four of the dozen appropriations bills that fund the government — Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, Interior-Environment and Transportation-HUD.
They are the first fiscal 2020 spending bills to make it through the Senate this year.
Earlier this week, White House officials met with Republican and Democratic aides from both the House and Senate to discuss outstanding issues. Shelby said the meeting was the first time the two parties engaged in more formal negotiations on the so-called 302(b) totals that set overall funding for each of the spending bills.
“We’re talking seriously, and we’re getting to the 302(b)s … and that’s kind of renewed conversation,” the chairman said. “Seriously, it started this week.”