Politics

No Spending Deal Yet as Leaders Leave White House Meeting

Aides say both chambers involved in shutdown-avoidance talks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gets on the elevator as he heads to the White House for a congressional leadership meeting on government funding with President Barack Obama on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama and congressional leaders appeared confident they soon will ink a deal to avoid a government shutdown, but neither side announced a final agreement on Monday.

Republican and Democratic leaders from both chambers met with Obama for about an hour in the Oval Office in a discussion that covered a wide range of issues. Senior lawmakers and White House aides are signaling that a stopgap funding bill lasting until Dec. 9 could hit the Senate floor later this week.

Obama told reporters he has “modest” hopes that leaders on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue can find enough common ground to pass a continuing resolution before government funding expires, as well as tack on a section addressing federal efforts to curb the Zika virus outbreak.

“Even though I know that we’re in the midst of a political season and everybody is thinking about elections, there’s still business to be done and I was encouraged by some of the constructive work that’s being done right now,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office, flanked by House and Senate leaders.

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The meeting came as senior lawmakers and the White House try to agree on a stopgap measure to fund government programs and agencies into the new fiscal year and avert a shutdown, which would otherwise occur on Oct. 1.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the meeting at the White House was "a good meeting. [The group] talked about wrapping up the funding issue. And I think we're all in a good place to do that on a bipartisan basis pretty quickly."

An aide to Speaker Paul D. Ryan said the leaders discussed their desire to reach a speedy resolution on a short-term spending bill, including funding for the Zika virus.

"The speaker talked about his desire to get the appropriations process working, and told the leaders he objected to doing an omnibus spending bill later in the year," the aide said. "He also talked about the importance of taking care of our military through the appropriations process ... In addition, the leaders discussed other remaining priorities including legislation on mental health, criminal justice reform, and medical research.”

Details about the size and shape of the stopgap measure began to emerge shortly before the leaders arrived. McConnell and Ryan were joined by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The White House made clear that the measure "should be short and not freighted with the kinds of ideological riders" that have triggered standoffs in the past.

In addition, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he expects lawmakers to be able to move this week on a continuing resolution through Dec. 9 at last year’s enacted levels that includes funds for a Zika virus response and veterans programs. He also teed up for a procedural vote the legislative vehicle on which the continuing resolution would ride.

The possibility of Congress fleeing Washington a few weeks early to campaign didn't stop the partisan blame game surrounding the need for another stopgap measure.

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Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, took to the floor to blame Democrats for the need for a continuing resolution to Dec. 9, saying: “It’s the result of our Democratic colleagues filibustering the regular appropriations process.”

Multiple congressional aides told CQ Roll Call that lawmakers from both chambers are engaged in talks about a continuing resolution. But potential sticking points remain, including possible curbs on funding Planned Parenthood, resettling Syrian refugees and other policy provisions that might hitch a ride on the legislation.

"While we still reserve the idea of bringing our own bill, at this point the talk is about perfecting the bill in the Senate," House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said when asked by Roll Call about the nature of discussions on a stopgap continuing resolution. 

Rogers also said they were working with both House and Senate Democrats to come up with an agreement.

Niels Lesniewski, Bridget Bowman and Kellie Mejdrich contributed.Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow Bennett on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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