Senate Follows House Out of Town, Without Deal on Omnibus

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By Nancy Ognanovich

The Senate followed the House out of town for a two-week recess with no agreement in place on how to fund the federal government when a current stopgap measure expires April 28.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he intends to take up a bill to fund the government before the deadline, but those talks between Republicans and Democrats still haven’t yielded a deal on its final details.

McConnell also offered few details on the strategy he and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will use to get an 11-bill omnibus through both chambers in a few days. He did say he is counting on Democrats to help push it across the finish line.

“These kinds of bills can’t pass without a reasonable number of the party of the minority in the Senate,” McConnell told reporters. “And we are optimistic we’ll be able to work all that out and meet the deadline at the end of the month.”

The House and Senate are working to wrap up the fiscal year 2017 bills that McConnell and Ryan agreed last December to hold over in order to give the Trump administration more say in federal spending. But disputes over policy riders and details of spending—such as the administration’s demand for money to build a border wall—are raising concerns that the measures won’t be enacted before the stopgap expires.

McConnell said the White House has been negotiating some of those details with Democrats, telling reporters that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) met with Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney recently. However, Schumer’s office denied that the Democratic leader is actively negotiating the package with the administration.

“The White House has not been heavily involved and [Sen.] Schumer is not engaged in appropriations talks with the administration,” said Schumer spokesman Matt House. “House and Senate Democrats and Republicans have been making very good progress on an appropriations package to fund the government. The only thing that could derail that progress is the White House insisting on their extraneous demands, which would meet bipartisan opposition.”

Dwindling Days

McConnell spoke April 7 as the Senate was voting to confirm Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court. Soon after, the Senate left for a spring recess. The House began its break April 6.

McConnell said he and Schumer discussed the Senate agenda after the recess and said that passing legislation to close out FY 2017 will be the top priority for lawmakers. However, with no legislation finalized and ready to file, McConnell and Schumer struck an agreement to have the Senate vote late April 24 on the nomination of Sonny Perdue to serve as Agriculture secretary in the new administration.

McConnell and Schumer also agreed that then the Senate will begin consideration of the nomination of Rod Rosenstein to serve as deputy attorney general at the Justice Department. The nomination is expected to generate a debate related to an ongoing investigation into the administration’s contacts with the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That schedule suggests the Senate won’t move any government spending bill until late in the week and legislation won’t reach President Donald Trump’s desk much before the deadline. Still, McConnell repeatedly has insisted there won’t be any government shutdown similar to what was seen in 2013.

McConnell avoided any discussion about how the legislation would be advanced, including whether he still plans to: pick up a House-passed Department of Defense appropriations bill (H.R. 1301); attach 10 other appropriations bills to the measure; pass it; and send it back to the House.

The Republican leader also didn’t say whether the package that comes to the Senate floor will carry the more than $30 billion supplemental that Trump wants for defense and border security.

But while a controversial rules change enabled McConnell to advance the Gorsuch nomination with a simple majority vote, McConnell said it will be back to business as usual when lawmakers return to tackle government spending.

“The spending bill to fund the government through Sept. 30 obviously is one that cannot be done by one party alone,” McConnell said. “It will require, as is the Senate’s tradition, bipartisan involvement.”

Border Wall Dispute

The developments also mean talks involving House and Senate appropriators and leaders will continue during the recess.

Lawmakers and aides said the discussions were steadily advancing until the White House made a late appeal aimed at forcing deep cuts in 2017 spending. In addition, the administration is said to be still pressing for new money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

However, both Democrats and Republicans have said they are opposed to the reductions and border spending and the eleventh-hour press by the White House has slowed progress in the talks. Among other things, Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeated warnings that Democrats won’t support a final package that funds the border wall.

McConnell said as soon as the 2017 package is passed he wants to begin work on the bills for FY 2018. Trump’s fleshed-out budget blueprint is expected on Capitol Hill in mid-May. Among other things, he is proposing $54 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary programs.

McConnell said he is going to try to move all 12 annual spending bills in the coming months—an effort that has failed repeatedly in previous years.

"[A]s soon as we finish funding the government through Sept. 30, we’re already into the 2018 appropriations cycle,” McConnell said. “All of that will have to be done on a bipartisan basis and I fully intend—and I think the Democratic leader can speak for himself—but I’m confident he looks at it the same way.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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