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With Shutdown Deadline Looming This Week, Lawmakers Look to Buy More Time

Vote on a one-week funding extension is expected this week, ahead of Friday's deadline.

Federal agencies appear poised to approve another week of status quo funding to avoid a government shutdown, with lawmakers resigned to a second stopgap spending measure in fiscal 2021 as they buy time for a more comprehensive agreement. 

Congressional leaders had expressed optimism they would have time to draft and pass an omnibus appropriations bill to set line-by-line funding for every agency before this Friday’s deadline, but several outstanding issues have delayed that process. Absent congressional action, agencies would be forced to shut down Dec. 12. 

“Unfortunately, things are not moving as rapidly as I think they ought to,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on Friday. He had hoped Congress would wrap up its funding work by this coming Thursday, he said, but is now advising House members “to keep their schedules very, very flexible.” 

A House Democratic aide said a CR through Dec. 18 was “likely,” and a vote would probably occur mid-week. 

Among the issues that have held up spending talks are how to fund access to private sector care through the Veterans Affairs Department and spending on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Congressional leadership is also seeking a compromise agreement on COVID-19 relief funds to attach to the omnibus bill. While momentum has grown for a $900 billion package unveiled with bipartisan, bicameral support last week, hurdles remain over liability protections for businesses that Senate Republicans have insisted be included in the agreement. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noted on Friday she and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to first tackle an underlying omnibus bill to which pandemic relief could be attached.  

“He and I, being appropriators, know that if you are going to do that, you have to have an omnibus bill,” Pelosi said. “And so, we have to work through all of the provisions that are still unresolved there. We're making progress.” She added talks on the two bills are taking place concurrently and would likely be combined as “that is the vehicle leaving the station.” 

Appropriations leaders in the House and Senate have reached an agreement on the top-line funding level for each of the 12 spending bills Congress must pass each year. Most federal agencies are set to receive a funding boost under a two-year budget agreement struck in 2019. Negotiators have indicated they only have the final sticking points left to still iron out. They are also still working on legislative text for a coronavirus relief deal. 

“Don't worry about a date,” Pelosi said. “It will be in sufficient time for us to get it done. The sooner, the better, but not at the expense of the initiatives that we need to address in the bills.”