Congress fumbles for shutdown remedy ahead of Friday deadline

Congressional leaders continued to bandy Tuesday over the terms of the next temporary shutdown patch, with just over three days left before federal funding expires.

Since cash for the military and non-defense agencies is set to run out at midnight on Friday, Democrats need to swiftly finalize the next stopgap bill by midweek, or risk running out of time to pass it through both chambers before a shutdown strikes. But the two parties are still at odds over main conditions of the measure, which would keep government funding levels largely the same: how long the patch will last and which spending areas will be exceptions and receive a boost.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday morning that he plans to bring the measure to the floor as early as Wednesday. But if that goal slips, the timeline quickly gets dicey in the Senate, where GOP lawmakers such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have a track record of objecting to fast-tracked debate on funding bills, triggering government shutdowns like the brief lapse the Kentucky Republican spurred in 2018.

While Democrats have proposed keeping the government funded until sometime in January, Republicans are pushing for a longer stopgap. They argue that the two parties will need more time to strike a sweeping funding deal that updates spending levels for the Pentagon and every domestic agency of the federal government.

“The question is not January … or February, or even March,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), his party’s top appropriator in the Senate. “I think the real question is: When do we sit down and talk substantively?”

A Senate GOP aide said Tuesday afternoon that minority party leaders are seeking “an appropriate amount of time” to work through cross-party negotiations on a broader funding package. “For success in the long run, [a stopgap] that gives sufficient leeway is important in the short term,” the Republican aide said.

Republicans say those talks will take longer than usual this year, considering Democrats are seeking historic increases in non-defense spending and will not cede upfront to GOP demands — such as including the Hyde amendment, a Republican-led policy that bans federal funding being used to perform abortions.

A top House Democratic aide said Tuesday that Republicans in both chambers have “refused to negotiate” all year over funding the government. “… while House and Senate Democrats have put forward their proposals, Republicans have not presented an offer of their own,” said Evan Hollander, the majority party’s leading spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee.

Setting aside that dispute over the funding patch’s length, Democrats and Republicans are still at loggerheads over what exceptions will be included in the bill. Leaders have discussed several so-called “anomalies,” including adding funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, Afghan resettlement efforts and to increase pay for congressional staff. The legislation could also include stipulations to prevent cuts to programs like Medicare and farm subsidies.

Republican leaders have for weeks been considering how to negotiate the next spending patch, as Democrats publicly called on them to make a counteroffer to their proposed funding bills.

The GOP has threatened to ultimately force Democrats into a “full-year” stopgap if the majority party doesn’t cave to a slew of Republican funding demands before broader negotiations even begin.

“We’re not going to talk substantively with them about moving the bill, not just a CR, until they get serious about it,” Shelby said this week.

Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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