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Lawmakers Aiming for a Comprehensive Spending Bill, but Hurdles Remain

CHRIS WATTIE

After meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss the federal budget, congressional leaders said Tuesday that they plan to work on a comprehensive spending bill for 2023.

“We all agreed that we would rather not have a CR,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters, referring to a continuing resolution, a stop-gap spending bill that would freeze spending at last year’s levels. The government is currently being funded by a continuing resolution passed in September that expires on December 16.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) echoed that sentiment, saying that Congress needs to pass an omnibus spending package in December.

“We had a really good meeting,” McConnell said. “Laid out the challenges that we’re all collectively facing here. I think there’s widespread agreement that we’d be better off with an omnibus than a CR, but there are some significant hurdles to get over to do that,” he added.

In search of a topline: One of those hurdles is agreeing on how much the government will spend next year. House Democrats are calling for $1.6 trillion in discretionary spending, an increase of about $100 billion over last year, but Republicans aren’t interested in raising non-defense spending levels. McConnell said that Republican leaders are focused on increasing defense spending and providing more aid to Ukraine.

“Their insistence on continuing to request astronomical increases on the non-defense domestic side is a sticking point,” McConnell said. “So that’s where we are and we’re going to keep talking to each other and hope to work this out.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agreed that the meeting was productive. “We each laid out our criteria for the omnibus,” he told reporters. “Obviously they’re different, but we’ve agreed to sit down as early as tomorrow, the four appropriators and the four leaders, to try and resolve the issue and avoid any government shutdown.”

The CR option: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is seeking to become the next speaker in January, also said he would prefer to pass an omnibus spending package – but only if certain conditions are met. Some Republicans in the House are calling for lower spending levels overall, with more funding for border security, and may push for a continuing resolution that runs into early next year if they can’t get what they want.

“I have no problem coming back in January and getting it right,” McCarthy said. Some critics, though, doubt that McCarthy really wants to tackle a funding fight – complete with the threat of a government shutdown – in the first days of the new Congress. “McCarthy says this, but definitely not what he wants,” writes Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman. “[P]utting a shutdown threat in the early days of the new majority is strategically idiotic.”

Still, although it may not be the preferred option for congressional leaders, there may not be enough time to reach an agreement on a comprehensive spending package. Pelosi said lawmakers would get to work on a topline spending number and move on from there, but there’s no guarantee that they will reach a final agreement. “I think it’s really important for people to know that if we don’t have an option, we may have to have a year-long CR,” she told reporters.

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