House passes stopgap as spending talks stall

The House on Tuesday passed a monthlong continuing resolution (CR) in a 231-192 vote, pushing off a government shutdown fight until Dec. 20, even as more comprehensive spending negotiations stalled.

“This CR will allow additional time to negotiate and enact responsible, long-term funding for priorities that make our country safer and stronger and give working families a better chance at a better life,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said.

Even as the stopgap progressed, negotiations over how to allocate funds have hit a wall, and appropriators are expected to miss their self-imposed Wednesday deadline for striking a deal on how to divvy up the $1.37 trillion in annual spending among 12 bills.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) on Tuesday said the deal was unlikely before Thanksgiving.
“That would be quite optimistic right now,” he said. “We haven’t resolved anything yet. We seem to be getter closer, and then we’re stalled.”

Shelby and Lowey in recent weeks have adopted a negotiation strategy of putting off a final deal on the border wall in order to tackle the funding allocations first. Both expressed optimism following a meeting last week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

But on Monday, Shelby said the wall remained a hurdle. Democrats don’t want to add the $5 billion in money for the wall that President Trump requested for the homeland security bill. Doing so would mean taking funds from other bills such as the labor, health and human services, and education spending measures.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said lawmakers must reach a deal for the full-fledged funding bills for the 2020 fiscal year, which began October 1, before the end of the year.

“Failing to secure funding for the federal government before the end of the year is not an option,” he said.


But appropriators say that without a deal on allocations, the deadline can’t be met.

“It takes some time just to get that bill written by the staff. So we’re running out of time,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation and housing and urban development.

Democrats have been steadfast in their insistence that none of the bills be signed into law until there is agreement on all of them and point the finger at Trump and his insistence on wall funding.

“The wall I think is the major impediment. But that’s only one bill: the Department of Homeland Security,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said of talks to establish top-line spending numbers for all 12 annual appropriations bills.

“But it ought not to adversely affect the other 11 bills. They’re being held hostage, essentially,” he said.

Shelby acknowledged that a compromise would not be possible without Trump’s stamp of approval. “We’ve got to work with the White House, because they’ve got the power of signing and not signing,” he said

Besides extending existing funding for the government, the CR also provides funding for U.S. census efforts and a 3.1 percent military pay raise.

Senate Republicans have slammed Democrats for refusing to take up a package of spending bills that included defense, arguing they were denying the troops a pay raise. Democrats blocked the legislation’s consideration over issues relating to the border wall.

The measure passed in the House also extends several controversial government surveillance programs that were set to expire in mid-December by 90 days to allow for further discussion on how to address the security and privacy issues around them.

Several progressives voted against the legislation over their objections to that extension.

“Yeah that’s gonna be a no from me dog,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted regarding the program extensions.

The chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, however, supported the bill, as did the bulk of the caucus.

The CR also provides funding for response efforts for the Ebola outbreak in Africa, extends numerous government health programs and provides a traditional honorarium to the widow of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) following his October death.

The stopgap measure comes just two days before the current shutdown deadline. The Senate is expected to quickly take up and pass the measure, and McConnell said that the White House has signaled Trump’s support.

But while the measure would keep the government open for the next four weeks, some fear a government shutdown could be on the horizon if negotiators don’t come to an agreement soon.

Disagreements over funding the wall led to a 35-day government shutdown that began just ahead of Christmas in 2018.

Cristina Marcos contributed.

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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