WASHINGTON — Senate appropriators are mulling a continuing resolution that would run until mid-December, which would put the chamber on a collision course with new Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., who’s been pushing to kick final spending decisions into next year.
A CR ending the week of Dec. 11 is under consideration, though conversations are ongoing and no final decision has been made, sources familiar with the plans say.
The two chambers are also facing a pending showdown on aid for Israel and Ukraine, along with other national defense and potentially domestic supplemental funding priorities that President Joe Biden has requested.
Johnson is pushing for Israel aid to move separately and be paired with pulling back previously approved IRS funding, while most senators prefer moving Israel aid with Ukraine funding and other parts of Biden’s $106 billion request the president has labeled a “national security” package.
And with just two and a half weeks until the Nov. 17 funding deadline, it appears likely that aid will end up paired with the CR due to that time constraint.
Johnson and House Republicans want to avoid a fiscal 2024 appropriations omnibus around the holidays. During his speakership campaign, Johnson said in a letter that he would pursue a stopgap that would go until Jan. 15 or April 15, whichever could receive consensus from his conference.
This would “ensure the Senate cannot jam the House with a Christmas omnibus,” Johnson wrote in the Oct. 23 letter.
During an interview on Fox’s “Sunday Morning Futures” program, Johnson appeared to endorse the mid-January CR option, paired with possibly moving up the start date of 1 percent across-the-board cuts in the debt limit law if there are any unfinished full-year spending bills at that point.
‘Makes no sense at all’
But senators in both parties said they do not believe that lengthy stopgap measures are a good way to govern.
“I really believe the sooner we can get this done, it makes it such that our agencies can be much more efficient,” Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., a senior Appropriations panel member, said Tuesday. “We waste a tremendous amount of money when we don’t get it done in time.”
Boozman and other defense-focused Republicans particularly believe longer CRs hurt the Pentagon, as new programs can not start under stopgaps.
“Defense is such a large agency, but you can’t start anything new,” he said. “You have to continue spending the same way that you did in the prior year, it makes no sense at all.”
Senate Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said passing full-year appropriations is “the most important action Congress can take to bolster our national security,” a sentiment she said former Defense Secretary Robert Gates once shared with her.
Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., said during a Tuesday hearing that she agrees with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken that it is crucial to pass full-year appropriations bills and avoid “perpetual CRs and devastating cuts” that harm the nation’s global standing.
Many Democratic appropriators said Tuesday that Congress should wrap up the fiscal 2024 appropriations process before January.
“We’re already almost a month into the current fiscal year,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the Financial Services subcommittee chair. “We should be able to get our house in order and pass a budget for the year we’re in before more than three months have passed.”
Homeland Security Appropriations Chair Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., said a stopgap running into the new year would be a “dereliction of duty.”
“Once you are on an April CR, you are basically punting for the entirety of the year,” Murphy said. “I just think we have a responsibility to write budgets, and if you are on a CR until April, you are not writing a budget.”
However, a few Senate Republicans would support the new speaker’s approach, including Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
“This is the well-honed process, by the way,” Johnson said. “It’s grotesquely dysfunctional, but very well-honed, resulting in an omnibus right before Christmas, and nobody reads it, just pass it and forget about it.”
Johnson said he believes there should be as lengthy a CR as possible until the 1 percent across-the-board cut included in the debt limit law would hit, as is currently scheduled for the end of April. He said he’s proposed a universal consent agreement within the Republican conference that would set aside two weeks each for two-bill appropriations packages, with an open amendment process.
House Democrats appear to be on the same page as their Senate counterparts on wrapping up this calendar year.
Last week, House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said she thought the CR should extend stopgap funding no later than December.
“We just can’t govern under a continuing resolution,” DeLauro said. “It’s not a way to run a government, it really isn’t. You do it as a stopgap, but you don’t do it as a way to govern.”
Little progress on full-year bills
The problem is the two chambers have made little progress on reconciling full-year spending bills that can pass in both chambers and become law.
The House is making belated progress on its bills after a lengthy hiatus due to the lack of a speaker before Johnson’s election last week. The chamber has passed five out of 12 bills, with up to three more on tap this week.
The Senate is expected to pass its first set of appropriations bills this week as a package featuring the Agriculture, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD measures.
Timing will clearly be tight, with the supplemental and stopgap requiring attention in coming weeks, but Murray said Tuesday she and Collins are working out the contents of a potential second fiscal 2024 package.
Homeland Security Appropriations ranking member Katie Britt, R-Ala., on Tuesday called on Senate leadership to pick up the pace on the fiscal 2024 bills.
“We were sent here to do a job, so it’s our duty to the American people to do it,” she said. “So let’s stay in, let’s be here nights and weekends, let’s actually come in and vote.”
Britt said she would be willing to watch Saturday’s Alabama-LSU football game from the cloakroom if that is what it takes.
“I’m so sick of us just passing the buck, or waiting, I’m ready to work,” she said.