Even as Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., preps a last-ditch attempt to get his unruly conference in line behind a spending strategy, there were quiet staff-level talks happening among the “four corners” of the congressional leadership in both chambers to somehow avert a shutdown.
Senate Democratic and Republican leaders have been negotiating the contents of a stopgap spending measure while keeping House GOP leaders in the loop, sources familiar with the talks said. They are cognizant of the pressures McCarthy is facing and are trying to give him something his conference can feasibly swallow, these people said.
Accordingly, Senate leaders are said to be considering leaving out Ukraine aid and possibly additional supplemental disaster relief appropriations.
Although senators on both sides of the aisle strongly support Ukraine aid, they’ll get another bite at the apple in roughly six weeks when a continuing resolution expires Nov. 17 — although that date isn’t set in stone, sources said. That date lines up with what McCarthy floated to his members during a Saturday conference call.
Leaving out Ukraine aid could make it easier to jump through that chamber’s procedural hoops given expected roadblocks from Rand Paul, R-Ky., and possibly others. One source familiar with the talks said adding a Ukraine aid package could also lead to demands from Republicans for a substantial border security package that there may not be time to negotiate.
No decisions have been made yet on the Ukraine piece, in part because the duration of the CR hasn’t been finalized. If funding is extended beyond November, for example, there could be more pressure to get the money to Ukraine as part of the bill.
Disaster relief is broadly popular as well. But a bipartisan “anomaly” that’s already in an initial House version of stopgap legislation would free up $20 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund without adding extra money that House conservatives have said they oppose.
One disaster-related item is expected to ride along with the CR: A fix to prevent steep pay cuts for wildland firefighters as soon as October.
The White House requested $60 million in new funding to last through December; the House’s current stopgap bill would repurpose up to $17.25 million from the 2021 infrastructure law to get through the duration of that monthlong government funding extension. The exact contours of a negotiated firefighter relief provision weren’t immediately clear.
The Senate bill was also expected to include a three-month extension of expiring Federal Aviation Administration spending and revenue-collection authority, given the two chambers aren’t yet close to a compromise multiyear FAA reauthorization bill.
The House’s five-year FAA bill is the vehicle for the Senate’s CR package, which senators want to have a deal on in time for the cloture vote on the motion to proceed, set up for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
An extension of the expiring National Flood Insurance Program is also expected to be in any eventual stopgap deal.
Other legislative riders unrelated to fiscal 2024 appropriations were in the mix for the Senate’s interim funding bill, sources said, including a package of health care “extenders,” although the details weren’t clear. Lawmakers in both chambers at minimum want to renew expiring mandatory funding for community health centers and teaching hospitals as well as cash benefits for low-income households under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Also in play was renewal of the Compacts of Free Association, known as COFA, that govern U.S. relations with Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.
Economic aid to Micronesia and the Marshall Islands expires after Sept. 30, and the White House wants an extension of those provisions as well as aid to Palau, which lapses a year later, plus a bump in federal assistance.
Negotiations on a new compact with the Marshall Islands were still ongoing as of Monday, though a senior administration official reported “substantial progress” in those talks, which are occurring this week in Washington as part of the U.S.-Pacific Island Forum Summit.
House GOP leaders want to minimize the number of add-ons, however, and unrelated provisions may ultimately be kept to a minimum.
Even if Senate leaders can strike a deal in time for Tuesday’s vote, getting it through that chamber in time to beat Saturday’s deadline could be a heavy if not insurmountable lift. There would be up to 30 hours of debate post-cloture just on the motion to proceed, followed by another 30 hours’ delay after cloture is filed on the underlying bill — and then another 30 hours post-cloture on the underlying bill — if any senator chooses to drag out debate.
Same old, same old?
And then there’s the House.
McCarthy still wants to put a CR on the floor in that chamber that can pass with GOP votes in order to establish a stronger negotiating position with the Senate. But he’s rapidly running out of time to do so, even if the votes existed.
House GOP leaders had to pivot late last week to accommodate demands from conservatives to put all 12 individual fiscal 2024 spending bills on the floor with an extra $60 billion reduction from the bills previously introduced by the House Appropriations Committee.
They started that process over the weekend with nearly $4 billion in combined cuts to the Agriculture and State-Foreign Operations bills and a rule for floor debate that would allow for considering those two bills, plus the Defense and Homeland Security bills, this week.
But with Rep. Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., still absent Tuesday, according to his office, McCarthy can only lose three votes on the rule if all are present and voting. And he’s already lost Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who says she’s a “hard no” due to the inclusion of funding to train Ukrainian soldiers.
Other “no” votes on the Defense bill rule last week include Republicans Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Matt Rosendale of Montana, and Eli Crane and Andy Biggs, both from Arizona.
Biggs and Rosendale attended the Rules Committee meeting on Friday after most members had gone home, however, and expressed appreciation for the panel sticking around to work.
“I’m excited about it,” Rosendale said. “I’ve been waiting for this day for months now.”
Still, there was some discussion that some conservatives want more information on how the $60 billion in cuts across the nondefense spending bills would be implemented before agreeing to let the process move forward.
All of which was putting the House’s timeline for action completely up in the air. And McCarthy still can’t agree to any bipartisan deal to keep the government open without a potential motion to oust him from his job.
“That would be something I would look strongly at,” Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Burchett has never voted for a CR and says his constituents instead want Congress to focus on balancing the budget, which could require reducing deficits by around $16 trillion over a decade.
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