With less than a week before government funding runs out, it appears Congress will consider another short-term spending package, although negotiators reportedly are close to a long-term deal.
If lawmakers do not act before midnight Feb. 8, federal agencies will shut down for the second time in as many months. Democrats agreed to reopen the government Jan. 22 in exchange for a commitment to negotiate and debate an immigration bill that includes protections for enrollees in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in the Senate.
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Politico reported Friday that negotiators are moving toward a long-term budget deal that would increase spending by $300 billion over two years. That plan, proposed by Republican lawmakers, would increase the 2011 Budget Control Cap spending caps by $80 billion for defense and $63 billion for non-defense annually.
But the proposal could alienate deficit hawks in both the House and Senate, who typically demand offsets for any increase in domestic spending. The most recent GOP proposal would only provide offsets for $100 billion, if not less.
But even if Democrats agree to the Republicans’ proposal, appropriators would need several weeks to craft the legislation. In the meantime, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., reportedly will seek a continuing resolution—the fifth since the fiscal year began last October—to keep the government open until March 22. That deadline would align with the Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimate that the government would reach the debt limit by late March as a result of lower tax revenues.
But that could upset conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, who required concessions from Ryan in exchange for their votes on the last short-term funding deal in January.
“The general consensus is not to support another CR,” said caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., earlier this week.
On the other hand, Democrats, who opposed the previous CR in an effort to gain concessions on DACA, seem more receptive to a short term deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to bring a “neutral” immigration bill to the floor for an open debate and vote, provided the government remains open.
“There’s going to be a fifth [CR],” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told Federal News Radio Thursday. He said he “would be surprised” if there were another shutdown.
While federal employee groups support keeping the government open, and funding agencies through full-year appropriations, discussion of offsets sets off alarms. In previous budget debates, federal workers have borne the brunt of efforts to curb spending.
“What always makes us nervous is the offsets for raising the spending caps,” said Jessica Klement, legislative director of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association last month. “They took from feds in 2014 in the two-year budget deal, but then they didn’t in the two-year deal they did in November 2015 . . . Any time there are calls for spending offsets, the federal community should be nervous.”