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House OKs stopgap funding fix with broader deal still under wraps

The House passed a stopgap spending bill Wednesday night that gives negotiators an extra week to finish a $1.7 trillion year-end spending package, setting up an all-out legislative sprint before lawmakers leave for the holidays.

The temporary funding patch, approved in a 224-201 vote, staves off a government shutdown Friday at midnight and extends federal cash through Dec. 23. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate could pass the measure as soon as Thursday, as long as there isn’t “unwelcome brouhaha” — a reference to the ability of any one senator to hold up the funding fix in exchange for concessions or amendment votes.

The House vote on the stopgap comes after leading appropriators finally cemented a deal Tuesday night on a bipartisan framework to pave the way for a sprawling year-end funding bill that would boost federal agency budgets for the current fiscal year. It’s an enormous lift for a Congress that has struggled to do anything on time, with critical issues like military readiness, Ukraine aid and Medicare cuts on the line.

Senate Appropriations Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) declined to get into details about the broader spending deal Wednesday, only saying negotiators now needed to “do some allocation.”

“We’ve made the first big, big, big, big step,” Shelby said.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) was confident Wednesday morning that House Democrats can pass the massive spending package once it comes together, noting that earmarks will help build support for the legislation. DeLauro must ensure the bill can get through the lower chamber, with only two Democratic votes to spare if every Republican opposes it.

House Republicans largely voted against the one-week stopgap, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is signaling opposition to a broader spending deal, too. The House GOP’s top appropriator, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), has not been involved in negotiations.

“There’s been tremendous input from our caucus in how these bills were constructed and what’s in them,” DeLauro said in a brief interview. “We’re going to help meet their expectations. Community projects are in there as well. I expect that I will have support.”

Schumer said Wednesday morning that the framework is a “big step in the right direction” though “we still have a long way to go.” In a floor speech, he characterized the yet-to-be-revealed outline as “a balanced approach because it will contain wins for both sides.”

He has also said the final year-end spending package will include a revamp of the Electoral Count Act, an outdated law former President Donald Trump tried to manipulate to overturn the results of the 2020 election, in addition to tens of billions of dollars in emergency money for Ukraine.

Senate Republicans held a special conference meeting on Wednesday in which they focused on a strategy to avoid another end-of-year spending fight next year, discussing how to use their leverage on the Senate floor and how to tackle a looming fight over the debt ceiling. And some GOP senators won’t give any guarantees about letting either the stopgap or the comprehensive funding bill through easily.

“I don’t ever signal in advance what procedural steps I might take in response to something like that; this is gonna have to be a real-time decision. We’ve got concerns with it,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Meanwhile, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said he’ll “make the decision as we see what’s going on.”

During a press conference Wednesday, a small group of conservative Republican senators wouldn’t say whether they would object to speeding up passage of the one-week stopgap measure. Instead, they reiterated their push for a short-term funding patch into early next year, which would allow House Republicans to weigh in.

The topic also came up at the GOP lunch, according to Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who said he is “probably” a no on the broader deal.

“Most of us want to know a very basic question like: ‘What is actually the top line?’” Cramer said, referring to the overall spending levels. “There’s a lot of frustration about the lack of topline, lack of other details … At the end of the day, there probably will be enough people to pass a [comprehensive spending deal] and there will be a bunch of people upset about it, it’ll be more votes and nothing will have changed.”

While appropriators announced their deal Tuesday night, they didn’t release details on the bipartisan funding framework, keeping the specifics under wraps to avoid fueling opposition against the mammoth spending bill that has yet to officially come together. But negotiators have largely settled on about $858 billion for a defense budget, representing a 10 percent increase over current funding levels.

The biggest hangup between both parties has been reaching an agreement on funding levels for domestic programs. DeLauro and retiring Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have fought for social spending increases designed to keep pace with inflation, arguing that nondefense funding can’t come at the expense of a bigger military budget.

But Republicans have insisted that a lot of Democrats’ domestic spending priorities have been satisfied by party-line bills over the last two years. As such, the majority party may have to settle for less social spending than they originally wanted.

“I’m glad that our Democratic colleagues finally accepted reality and conceded to the Republican position that we need to prioritize our national security,” Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor Wednesday morning.

“Funding defense is a basic bipartisan duty of our government, not something that earns Democrats special treats,” he said.

McConnell, who has said he’ll support the final year-end spending package, has also said appropriators must finish their work in the next week or Republicans will back a stopgap into early next year.

GOP senators will not return to finish up work on the comprehensive spending deal after the holidays, McConnell said Tuesday.

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Author: POLITICO