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

Another three- to four-week extension is expected as lawmakers hash out differences

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., left, said he had a “positive discussion” with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., about the path forward for stalled spending bills. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congressional leaders and the White House agree they’ll need another three or four weeks to wrap up negotiations on 12 annual spending bills, and are likely to extend stopgap funding to Dec. 13 or Dec. 20, a decision that may finally propel the fiscal 2020 appropriations process forward.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby said he had a “positive discussion” with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland on Thursday. Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer said in floor remarks that “we’re seeing some positive signs that we can get the process back on track.”

[Appropriations talks rejuvenated as possible shutdown looms]

The government has been operating on stopgap funding since the new fiscal year began on Oct. 1. While the House has passed 10 of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the federal government, the Senate has passed only four, and the two chambers have not resolved their differences on any of them.

Shelby, an Alabama Republican, is planning to meet with the other three House and Senate Appropriations committee leaders Tuesday to discuss spending allocations for the 12 subcommittees.

The biggest hurdle remains how to divvy up discretionary funds under the July budget caps agreement, which outlines a ceiling of $632 billion in nondefense appropriations, not counting certain extras above the cap negotiated in prior budget accords.

Democrats have argued that Senate Republicans shouldn’t be proposing an 8 percent boost for the Department of Homeland Security — including $5 billion for President Donald Trump’s border wall request — at the same time they are proposing just a 1 percent boost for the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill, given the limited resources.

Earlier this week, sources suggested the White House might not stick to its $8.6 billion border wall demand. But there is significant work to be done, Shelby and Schumer acknowledged.

Paul M. Krawzak, Jennifer Shutt and Caroline Simon contributed to this report.

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