Congress

House to take up Dec. 20 stopgap measure Tuesday

House Appropriations Democrats released the draft stopgap measure Monday afternoon after a morning of last-minute haggling

Disputes over potential add-ons between lawmakers in Congress and the White House on Monday was holding up a potential deal to pass a monthlong stopgap funding measure needed to avoid a government shutdown. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House is moving forward to quickly take up a monthlong continuing resolution that would extend temporary funding levels for federal agencies. The measure will be on the floor Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.

House Appropriations Democrats released the draft stopgap measure Monday afternoon after a morning of last-minute haggling over special additions. The measure would replace the current CR, which expires Nov. 21, with a new deadline of Dec. 20 to finish up fiscal 2020 spending bills. 

[December stopgap funding seems likely path forward for long-delayed appropriations]

“We need to review all the details of the CR, but are heartened that at first blush it does not appear to contain provisions which impede the President’s ability to pursue his policies, or other items which could impair the ability of the President to sign it by Thursday night,” White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland said in a statement.

One provision would allow the Census Bureau to spend at a $7.3 billion annualized rate in order to ensure adequate funding for the 2020 decennial count. That includes $90 million for special mobile questionnaire assistance centers to replace brick-and-mortar locations, an effort which has run into skepticism from some lawmakers as well as the bureau’s external advisory board. 

The measure would temporarily extend three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provisions through March 20, 2020. The provisions are otherwise set to expire Dec. 15, and extending them into the first quarter of next year would decouple the topic from the fiscal 2020 spending bills appropriators are aiming to finish next month.

The FISA provisions have been the subject of grumbling from members of both parties on both sides of the aisle. A spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he likely wouldn’t object to the temporary extension, however. “It is unfortunate that Congress failed to address FISA reauthorization before this deadline but we look forward to having a full debate on much-needed reforms in March when it is not attached to separate funding issues,” Lee spokesman Conn Carroll told CQ Roll Call.

Highway funds, terror victims

House Democrats included, over the objections of some Republicans, a provision that would block a looming $7.6 billion rescission of highway funding set to hit the states on July 1, 2020, under the 2015 highway authorization law. There’s also language that would ensure adequate funding for military servicemembers to receive a 3.1 percent pay raise next year.

Another section of the measure would expand eligibility for payments from a compensation fund for victims of state-sponsored terrorism set up under the fiscal 2016 omnibus spending law, allowing those who have also applied for or received aid from a separate 9/11 victims compensation fund to qualify.

The stopgap bill would also grant the customary death gratuity to the widow of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., who died earlier this month. Cummings’ wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, is running to replace him in Maryland’s 7th District.

The measure would also extend numerous expiring health care programs that were temporarily renewed in the most recent stopgap law, such as funding for community health centers and teaching hospitals, as well other miscellaneous programs ranging from the higher education reauthorization law to the Export-Import Bank.

The stopgap measure will be attached as an amendment to a fiscal 2020 spending package that’s already passed the House and Senate, a procedural move that will cut down on debate time when the measure goes back to the Senate later this week. 

The agreement is intended to buy more time for the White House and congressional leaders to finish up work on the dozen fiscal 2020 spending bills, which have stalled due to disputes over subcommittee allocations and related issues, such as how much to give President Donald Trump for his border wall project.

The two parties reached agreement in July to budget $738 billion for defense-related appropriations and $632 billion for nondefense programs during fiscal 2020. But Republicans and Democrats have not yet agreed how to divide up the funding, particularly on the nondefense side, which includes border security and veterans programs as well as everything from low-income housing to environmental protection to biomedical research.

Negotiators have been trading offers frequently during the past two weeks and appeared close to an agreement on the subcommittee allocations, known as 302(b)s, following a meeting Thursday between Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Lowey, D-N.Y. said after that meeting and again on Monday she thought an allocations deal could be reached by this Wednesday. 

If lawmakers can stick to that timeline, would give subcommittees about three weeks, excluding the one-week Thanksgiving break, to broker agreements on spending levels and policies within their bills.

‘Applause line at a rally’

The negotiations will include debates on border wall spending and whether the president should keep the ability to transfer military funds to border wall construction, the two issues most likely to lead to a stalemate and another shutdown.

On Monday, Shelby said the talks hadn’t yet borne fruit. He suggested there were still some concerns about agreeing to allocations without also resolving how much would go to the wall project.

“We’re still talking, but we have some impediments. It’s not just allocations, it’s dealing with the wall and other implications like that,” Shelby said.“We’re just looking for a way to resolve our problems and it seems like we take a couple of steps positive, then sideways and then slip backwards. It’s frustrating at times.“ 

Democrats have drawn a hard line on that issue for most of the year, with Pelosi, D-Calif., saying Sunday she doesn’t believe Trump is “serious” about border wall funding.

“We have well over a trillion dollars worth of decisions to make. I don’t know why we would go to that,” Pelosi said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“I think that his comments about the wall are really an applause line at a rally, but they’re not anything that he’s serious about,” she continued.

Lawmakers will also need to reconcile dozens of policy differences between the House and Senate bills that have nothing do with the border wall.

House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said Friday that he expects most, but not all, of the appropriations bills can become law before Congress leaves town for the December holidays.

“When you take out the week for Thanksgiving, you’ve essentially got three weeks when you get back,” Simpson said. “If we put our heads to it, I think, we could negotiate most of them. I wouldn’t say all of them.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chairwoman of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, said it’s possible to get final agreement on that bill before Dec. 20.

“We could move quickly because they do not want to go beyond Dec. 20 and it looks like they do not want to shut the government down. But obviously, the 302(b)s ... that’s the solid piece we need to know right now and then go from there,” DeLauro said.

The Connecticut Democrat said she plans to “fight very, very hard” in the final bargaining to keep $50 million for gun violence research the House approved (HR 2740) this summer.

One way of getting around tight budget limits that could accommodate both party’s priorities is to designate some portion of the $8.9 billion sought by the Department of Veterans Affairs for private medical care programs as an emergency. Those accounts became the responsibility of appropriators in a 2018 law (PL 115-182), and meeting the needs without an exemption would mean sacrifices, potentially, in other veterans programs. 

Hoyer suggested Friday that House lawmakers might want to hold off on scheduling their Christmas travel plans for the time being.

“I would advise members on both sides of the aisle not to schedule any business outside of Washington, D.C. between the 16th and the 20th,” Hoyer said in his weekly floor colloquy. “And I would advise them further, if in fact we do not fund government by the 20th, they may well be here longer than that.”

Niels Lesniewski and Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.

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