Lawmakers Nearing Deal on Appropriations

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., leads the chamber's Appropriations Committee. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., leads the chamber's Appropriations Committee. Drew Angerer/AP file photo

Congressional appropriators are very close to finishing a deal that would set the funding levels for each federal agency, according to multiple reports and lawmakers involved in negotiations.

Vincent Morris, a spokesman for Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters Monday that negotiators “hope to arrive at an agreement this week.” Senate and House lawmakers were hard at work while Congress was on recess, and they “made a lot of progress over the holidays,” Morris added.

Lawmakers have until Jan. 15 -- when the current continuing resolution expires -- to reach a deal. Mikulski, and her House counterpart Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., are trying to pass 12 separate bills collectively in an omnibus package that will mandate spending levels across government for the remainder of fiscal 2014.

Mikulski said that some “sticking points” remain, but that a deal was “within striking distance,” according to a report in Politico. “I think we’re going to get it,” she added.  

The deal would allocate a little more than $1 trillion for fiscal 2014, slightly boosting agency spending from fiscal 2013, thanks to the December budget agreement that partially repealed the sequester. Some of the issues still in limbo involve funding for President Obama’s major first-term legislative victories, most notably his health care and financial sector reforms.

Still, lawmakers remain optimistic they can reach a deal, which would allocate on a line-by-line level how each agency must spend its money for the rest of fiscal 2014. The current continuing resolution provides agencies with much more freedom to decide how to spend their money. Slightly more than half of the $1 trillion-plus omnibus bill would go toward Defense, which also would receive its own detailed funding bill as part of the package.

Congress is scheduled for recess on Jan. 17, and lawmakers have left open the possibility of passing a short-term stopgap spending bill to keep the government open between Jan. 15 and Jan. 17, if they need an extra couple days to hammer out any final details.

Though the optimism for a return to regular, if somewhat delayed, order has inspired a sense of relief on Capitol Hill, many of those involved in discussions still are not happy with how the bill has taken shape.

“We are looking at narrowing the differences, looking at…how we can compromise without capitulation on both sides,” Mikulski told the Associated Press.  

Some Republicans have expressed discontent about the Pentagon’s funding level, but were glad just to erase the uncertainty that has dominated during the last few years.

“They are just looking for some predictability, stability,” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Defense appropriations subcommittee, told AP. “I think we have it.”

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