Top negotiators say they have made some progress in setting line-by-line funding for federal agencies, but some barriers remain.
Congressional leaders have voiced early speculation in recent days that lawmakers will be able to set line-by-line funding levels for agencies throughout government before the end of the year without the need for another stopgap measure.
Top negotiators in the House and Senate met on Thursday to discuss a potential compromise for the rest of fiscal 2021 appropriations. On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was the most recent leader to cautiously express optimism that Congress can pass a full-year, omnibus spending bill before the current continuing resolution expires Dec. 11.
“The anticipation was that it was really about the omnibus,” Pelosi said of the meeting. “You have to remember, we have to have an omnibus bill. We must keep government open." She added it was a “very important responsibility” during the lame duck session of the 116th Congress. “We don't want another continuing resolution. I don't think they do either."
An omnibus package would group together the 12 spending bills Congress must pass each year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this week he had hoped appropriators would set the top-line level for each of those bills by Friday. McConnell has also said he and Pelosi have agreed to strive for full-year funding, rather than another stopgap measure like the one Congress passed in late September.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters this week that he and Democrats have reached some agreements and there is momentum toward an omnibus bill. His committee released all 12 spending bills earlier this month after attempts to pass them with bipartisan support within the panel collapsed earlier this year. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the top Democrat on the committee, said the bills included some areas of compromise but still contained poison pill provisions on topics including the COVID-19 pandemic, the environment and immigration. The package also proposed a pay freeze for federal employees in 2021, despite President Trump suggesting a 1% raise.
Unlike previous spending talks, the White House has largely been absent from the discussions so far. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with McConnell at the Capitol this week and said afterwards he could not rule out a shutdown.
“I can tell you it’s a high priority to make sure we keep our government funded,” Meadows said. “Obviously, we want to keep the government funded.”
While lawmakers appear to be making progress, the mercurial President Trump has often intervened at the 11th hour to disrupt funding negotiations. His refusal to concede the election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden could further complicate the discussions.
During the last presidential transition, President Obama signed a four-month CR in December that kept agencies on autopilot into April.