Lawmakers Prepare Spending Bill to Avoid Shutdown, But Hurdles Abound

Andrew Harnik/AP

With two weeks until the deadline to avert another government shutdown, House lawmakers are working feverishly to hammer out an omnibus spending package to keep agencies open for the rest of fiscal 2018, with a goal of introducing the measure next week.

Last month, Congress reached a two-year deal to increase federal spending caps to avoid automatic agency sequesters that would have been required under the 2011 Budget Control Act. The agreement increased overall spending by $300 billion over the course of fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019, including $131 billion in additional funding for non-defense agencies. Lawmakers then approved a six-week continuing resolution to allow appropriators time to craft a package to fund the government until Sept. 30. That CR runs out on March 23. 

On Thursday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said members of the House Appropriations Committee “are making great progress,” and that he plans to bring a $1 trillion omnibus bill to the floor next week.

But Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., poured cold water on that assessment. “Negotiations aren’t proceeding effectively as I would hope they would,” he said on the floor.

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In recent days, several pitfalls have emerged as potential barriers to an agreement. Some are typical partisan disagreements, such as whether to fund President Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and attempts by Republicans to block funding to Planned Parenthood. But others represent new potential fault lines.

Politico reported Thursday that Trump has vowed to veto any spending bill that includes money for the Gateway tunnel project in New York City. Under an agreement reached under the Obama administration, New York and New Jersey would pay half of the $13 billion price tag for the project. Retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who chairs the Appropriations Committee, reportedly wants to include at least $900 million for the tunnel in the omnibus.

Spokespeople for Republicans and Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee said lawmakers are negotiating the details of the omnibus bill, and plan to introduce legislation next week. But they could not comment on individual provisions that are under negotiation.

“It is still under negotiation,” said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the committee. “[Introducing the bill next week] is still our hope, yes.”

Appropriations Committee Democratic spokesman Matt Dennis said his party’s negotiators are working to minimize the number of policy riders and so-called “poison pill” provisions in the bill, to ensure it can also pass the Senate, where any spending bill requires Democratic votes to advance.

“What we are trying to get out of the bill are partisan, divisive provisions that cannot be enacted on their own, that are slipped in because people want to attach it to something that’s moving,” Dennis said. “[There are] still tough issues to resolve. Women’s health is an issue where there are items that Republicans want to enact but that Democrats object to. And the border wall and the protection of Dreamers are the kind of things that are still in the context of all of this. There are going to be difficult issues to resolve, but hopefully we can do it.”

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