WASHINGTON — With government funding set to expire at the end of Friday, House and Senate leaders are backing a two-week continuing resolution, through Dec. 22, to avert a government shutdown and buy more time to reach a 2018 funding deal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters that Republicans expect to vote this week to pass a short-term funding bill through Dec. 22 to “give us a little room to talk” about a bipartisan deal to ease statutory budget caps for defense and nondefense.
Though House GOP conservatives are pushing for a Dec. 30 CR, McConnell said: “I don’t think that’s the best way to go forward.”
McConnell is expected to meet Thursday to discuss spending issues with President Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Schumer told reporters Tuesday that Democrats will push for parity between extra funding for military and nondefense programs like veterans benefits, scientific research and aid for the opioid addiction crisis.
“We Democrats hope to work in a bipartisan way to keep the government open, fund our military and protect the middle class,” Schumer said.
Though Congress has abandoned regular order for budgeting and made continuing resolutions routine, the stop-gap measures are unpopular with military leaders because they continue to fund programs at the levels set for the previous year. Without specific exceptions, they also do not permit new acquisition programs to start.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said he would not vote for a CR of any duration unless it has “sufficient funding to protect the men and women serving in uniform.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told Defense News in an interview Saturday he would support a CR that lasts through Dec. 22 — and nothing further.
“I would not support a CR past Christmas, and really this two-week CR is just to give a little more time to negotiate and move this along,” Thornberry said.
“I’m afraid that if you take a continuing resolution into the new year, it will easily slip into a yearlong continuing resolution,” Thornberry said. “As hard as it’s been to have it for the first quarter, it would be devastating to have it for the rest of the year.”
Some lawmakers have also floated plans to combine a short-term CR with a defense spending bill and punt all other federal spending to a yearlong CR, which would continue 2017 spending levels.
However, Senate Democrats — who have leverage because their votes are needed to ease budget caps — will reject such a plan, said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations’ Defense Subcommittee.
“Just defense? No,” Durbin told reporters.
In the past, Democrats have sought omnibus spending deals and resisted passage of discretionary defense spending bills on their own. Democrats gain leverage on nondefense spending by linking it to defense spending.
“Frankly, national security includes the Defense Department, [the Department of] Homeland Security and [the Centers for Disease Control],” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member.
Rob Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services’ Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, supports passage of a defense appropriations bill on its own or linked to a CR. He suggested Senate Democrats be made to take a tough vote.
“The senators will have to make their decision of whether they would vote for defense and a CR,” Wittman said. “I think it’s a forcing mechanism, at least the way some folks look at it here.”
Though Wittman said the idea has been well-received across the House Republican caucus, noted moderate Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the safest bet is a “clean” two-week CR.
“Just make sure you don’t stumble into shutting down the government when you’re responsible for running it,” Cole said. “I could go along with it if there’s a consensus. Just count me as skeptical the Senate is going to roll over and play dead.”