Congressional negotiators face a series of hurdles in crafting legislation to fund the government as lawmakers navigate partisan divisions with additional budget constraints.
Spending cardinals in both chambers say they’ve made big strides in spending talks as they hammer out how to divide the funds, but they also say they haven’t come up with a list yet. of partisan and controversial policy riders.
And some sticking points are starting to emerge.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), one of the 12 spending cardinals in the lower chamber, identified areas such as the “FBI and election security assistance,” as well as the IRS, as early points of contention this year. appropriation speeches.
“We just don’t share the allocations for those, the different scores,” Womack told The Hill last week. “Then, on top of that, we haven’t gone down the road of policy riders, and there are a lot of open things right now that we need to address.”
The appropriators said that the talks ramped up shortly after the top negotiator struck a deal that allowed the two chambers to begin making a compromise on the spending proposal that would make it through a divided Congress.
But the two chambers entered negotiations with very different bills, after House Republicans maintained much lower spending levels than previously agreed to in a deal on budget caps, while Senate Democrats are higher on their set of bills.
“The House and Senate took a very different approach in the beginning and now we have to put things together,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), cardinal for the subcommittee that makes the annual funding bill for agencies such as the Departments of Labor (DOL) and Health and Human Services (HHS), said this week.
The bill, which also includes funding for the Department of Education, has often been seen as one of the most difficult of the 12 annual funding bills to negotiate and has been a battleground for battles over thorny policies. areas such as abortion.
Baldwin said after a recent meeting with key subcommittee negotiators in both chambers that “some progress” has been made in negotiations. But senior appropriators also signaled there is more work to do before a pair of March closing deadlines.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), who serves as the top Republican on the Senate subcommittee with Baldwin, said after this week’s meeting that the discussion was “very good,” though she also acknowledged “pending” issues in the talk.
“That’s obviously riders and stuff,” Capito said. “Look, we’re going back to the drawing board, assuming we can get there.”
“I wouldn’t say we’re at a standstill on some of the bigger issues, but a lot of the smaller issues and all the things we understand,” he said.
The DOL and HHS funding bill is one of eight annual appropriations measures that lawmakers must pass by the March 8 deadline under the recent stopgap bill passed by Congress. Lawmakers also face a more immediate deadline of March 1 to pass four other funding bills.
The March deadlines come after three stopgap funding bills to keep the government open as lawmakers continue to thrash out spending. Losing either would risk the first partial shutdown of the Congress government in years.
Negotiators in both chambers maintain that they are confident of completing their work on time.
However, there is bipartisan agreement that the partisan riders sought by House Republicans will make their jobs more difficult.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), one of the spending cardinals whose subcommittee funding bill is set to expire under the first deadline, said Wednesday he was “optimistic” about meeting the early March deadline, and added that negotiations on his bill “are moving in the right direction.”
But Fleischmann, whose subcommittee covers funding for the Department of Energy (DOE), acknowledged that “there are some issues that ultimately cannot be resolved at the committee level,” particularly the riders his party pushed in his subpanel. . upcoming bill.
Among the riders proposed as part of the DOE funding bill are measures targeting the Biden administration’s waterways rules, diversity and inclusion mandates and other partisan policies.
“It’s probably going to be a consistent theme across all 12 bills, if you will, because we have the same riders, some of which are very important to us and some of which are abhorrent to the other side,” Fleischmann said.
“So, those are the issues, ultimately, I think our leadership will address,” he added
At the same time, some negotiators say they see the final stopgap, also known as the continuing resolution (CR), passed in January as a possible last chance for Congress to buy more time for talks.
“We have tied it for a long time. I think a CR, at some point in time you have to ask yourself, ‘What good is this?’ So, I think that’s the last shot,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the Pentagon’s chief funding officer in the upper chamber, said last week.
But other negotiators warn that the calendar is tight.
Asked if he was confident Congress would meet the March funding deadlines, Womack said this week that he thinks “there’s an incentive there for us to get our work done.”
“The problem is that there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “But there are incentives, you know, like earmarks and those things, defense spending.”
“So, yeah, we’re going to try to mess around.”
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