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Get Ready to Rumble! Funding Fights Loom Large in the Senate

Yuval Rosenberg

The House is expected to consider a short-term stopgap spending bill this week to fund the government until shortly before Thanksgiving and avoid a government shutdown when the new fiscal year starts on October 1. But disagreements over full-year spending bills in the Senate could force lawmakers to consider a longer-term stopgap, known as a continuing resolution (CR), as well.

The Senate had held off on passing spending bills until lawmakers reached agreement on a two-year budget deal, which they did shortly before Congress left for its summer recess. The delayed process of passing appropriations bills to fund the government got off to a rocky start last week, waylaid by disagreements between Republicans and Democrats. “The impasse is throwing into question if senators will be able to get any of the fiscal 2020 bills through the chamber this month, a setback for Republicans who wanted to clear a major package before October,” The Hill’s Jordain Carney reports

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, described the negotiations as “pretty fragile” and warned, “If they break down we’re looking at potentially a long-term CR.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week passed top-line spending numbers along with a $695 billion defense funding bill and a $49 billion energy and water funding measure. But the topline spending figures and the defense bill don’t have the Democratic votes they would need to pass the full Senate, Carney notes:

“Democrats are taking issue with the top-line figures, which break down how much money each bill will get, because they believe Republicans are padding extra money toward the homeland security bill. And they balked at supporting the Pentagon spending bill after Republicans rejected an amendment that would have prevented Trump from shifting money in the bill toward the border wall without congressional sign off.”

Senate appropriators are scheduled to consider fiscal 2020 bills covering Agriculture, Transportation-HUD and Financial Services this week, but lawmakers won’t yet take up the Military Construction-VA spending bill, which includes the contentious question of border wall funding.

Senator John Boozman, the Arkansas Republican who chairs the Military Construction and VA appropriations subcommittee, said last week he wants to include $3.6 billion for military base projects, according to Roll Call — money provided in past years that the Trump administration is redirecting toward border barrier construction. Democrats oppose such backfilling of funds diverted by the administration under the president’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border.

Other funding fights still loom, as well. Carney notes that the Senate appropriators “have already punted both the bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and funding for the State Department over concerns that Democrats would try to insert abortion-related language into the bills.” And funding for the Department of Homeland Security — including Trump’s wall — “is considered so controversial that Republican senators say they aren’t sure that they will even bring the bill up.”

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