WASHINGTON—Budget negotiators facing the Dec. 20 expiration of the current continuing resolution head into negotiations this weekend with a tough job. They must not only overcome major disagreements on key issues, they must also deal with Democrats’ demand that Republicans agree on spending priorities for all 12 pending major appropriations bills.
The government runs out of money in two weeks, so Congress must either approve the dozen appropriation bills or pass another continuing resolution that allows departments and agencies to stay open at current funding levels for some period of time.
If neither of those events happen by Dec. 20, federal employees whose jobs aren’t considered “essential” will be told not to come to work because Congress again failed to agree on a budget.
Negotiators don’t sound optimistic heading into the weekend talks.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told Roll Call Friday that he is “more guarded because we still have the big hurdles and we haven’t concluded those. And they will be the hardest.”
Only slightly more optimistic was the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who told Roll Call he is “more enthusiastic than I was a couple of days ago. We want final negotiations to be done this weekend.”
The House Judiciary Committee holds its second impeachment hearing Monday and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made it clear she wants impeachment articles drawn up and voted on by Dec. 21 or 22 before Congress leaves town for the Christmas break.
Earlier this week, as The Epoch Times reported, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an influential member of the Senate’s judiciary and finance committees, lamented that “last August, we had an agreement that provided a roadmap for negotiations this fall and we all promised to work together in good faith and to stay away from poison pill policy riders and other things that might derail this appropriations process.”
Cornyn said the “bipartisan, bicameral agreement” was meant “to guide the appropriations process and to hopefully eliminate this uncertainty going into the Christmas season.”
The problem now, according to Cornyn, is that “unfortunately, our Democratic colleagues went back on their promises because of a disagreement on 0.3 percent of the federal budget” that “derailed all of the appropriations process and leaves us in our current state of dysfunction.”
Cornyn’s comments followed those of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) who said “Democrats strongly oppose the president stealing money from our military families to pay for this border wall. We have fought for provisions to stop this theft, will continue to do so.”
Schumer was referring to Trump’s plan to shift up to $5 billion in previously approved defense spending to help pay for construction of a new wall on the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
The Supreme Court decided in July in favor of Trump’s authority to redirect unspent defense funds on the wall, but Democrats are determined to rewrite the law to block it.
Other issues nettling the negotiators are Democrats’ demand for the inclusion of $50 million in research on gun violence, funding federal family planning grants with or without Trump’s ban on including abortion information, and another $8.6 billion to pay for the border wall.
The same day The Epoch Times reported Cornyn’s comments, Roll Call quoted an unnamed House Democratic leadership aide saying “We want agreement on all the bills before we start passing minibuses. That is the best way to avoid a shutdown.”
Budget negotiators have said that one possible way of dealing with the logjam of 12 appropriations bill coming due simultaneously was to break them into groups of three or four measures each—“minibuses.”
The “grand bargain” demand voiced by the aide, however, effectively blocks that approach. The funding resolution that expires in two weeks is the third such temporary stop-gap measure approved in 2019.
Further complicating the tense situation is the fact that agreement on all 12 bills would still not guarantee a shutdown would not happen because there might not be sufficient time left before the Dec. 20 deadline to revise the bill drafts to reflect the agreements, get them approved by the Senate and the House, and then signed by Trump.
The President, who has been focused on a NATO meeting in London and the Dec. 4 impeachment hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, has said very little on the budget in recent weeks.
Contact Mark Tapscott at firstname.lastname@example.org