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June 24, 2021

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Congress closer to averting Dec. 11 federal shutdown

Spending package framework finds bipartisan support

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WASHINGTON — Top appropriators reached bipartisan agreement Tuesday on a framework for an omnibus spending package that would avoid a partial government shutdown next month.

The compromise forged between the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees sets spending allocations for the dozen bills that fund federal agencies for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. A deal on those allocations will allow lawmakers to draft omnibus legislation that is needed by Dec. 11, when current stopgap funding is set to run dry.

The agreement, which was confirmed by aides familiar with the talks, resolves a partisan impasse over how to divvy up about $1.4 trillion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2021 that is allowed under a two-year budget deal. Details of the actual compromise spending allocations weren’t immediately available.

The House version of fiscal 2021 spending bills, released in July, and the Senate appropriations measures, released this month, have different allocations. Democrats opted to put more funding toward the departments of Veterans Affairs, Interior, EPA, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, while Republicans proposed more funding for Defense, Homeland Security, Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Those differences weren’t all that great in dollar terms. And after accounting for spending that is already exempt from budget caps, most agencies are in line for at least small increases over the prior fiscal year’s levels.

But the House bills also included about $233 billion in emergency spending for the COVID-19 pandemic that is not part of the Senate bills. Senate Republicans had balked at combining pandemic relief with regular annual appropriations. It wasn’t immediately clear whether there was any accommodation for coronavirus relief funding on top of the regular compromise subcommittee allocations.

Hopes for completing the deal by last week were dashed after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., continued to object to exempting $12.5 billion in veterans health care money from the budget caps. That money pays for a program giving veterans access to private medical care outside the VA system when wait times are too long or veterans live too far away from VA facilities.

McCarthy has said exempting the program violates the two-year budget deal, while House Democrats and Senate Republicans favored the exemption to free up more money for other nondefense programs.

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