Congress

Shelby: Next stopgap could last until February or March

Appropriations chairman says spending bills unlikely to become law before Thanksgiving break

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., departs from the Senate lunch in the Capitol on Wednesday, Oct. 16. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby said the next continuing resolution to fund government agencies beyond the current stopgap’s Nov. 21 expiration might have to run beyond the end of this calendar year — perhaps into early spring.

“Unless a miracle happens around here with the House and the Senate, we will have to come forth with another CR,” said Shelby, R-Ala., noting that next February or March is “probably in the ballpark.”

[Senate clears stopgap, pivots to endgame spending talks]

Shelby said he’d prefer a shorter stopgap but that the House’s impeachment inquiry and possible Senate trial will likely take all of the “oxygen out of the room” until the process is over.

“Looming on the horizon is what’s going on in the House regarding the process of impeachment, if there is an impeachment resolution adopted over there and a trial over here,” he said.

The next stopgap appears likely to encompass every Cabinet department and federal agency that requires annual appropriations, according to Shelby. That’s a signal that House and Senate negotiators are unlikely to work out agreement on any of the 12 fiscal 2020 bills, including the eight noncontroversial spending bills the Senate Appropriations Committee approved with broad bipartisan support in September.

Shelby said it would be “very, very” optimistic to expect any of the annual spending bills to become law before the current stopgap expires, right before a scheduled weeklong break for Thanksgiving.

Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., indicated that the slowdown in negotiations over final spending levels might be caused by the White House’s inability to tell congressional Republicans what the administration is willing to accept.

“As one of the Republicans told me, it’s difficult because the White House will tell them one thing one day and something entirely different the next day,” Leahy said, adding that there is also frustration over having to deal with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, “who was so proud to never vote for an appropriations bill” when he represented South Carolina in the House.

“In my experience, which is 44 years, I’ve never seen this from either a Republican or Democratic White House,” Leahy continued. “They might negotiate on numbers, but then you get a figure.”

The Senate is currently debating a four-bill spending package consisting of measures that received unanimous votes in committee, but leaders have not yet reached agreement on which amendments will receive votes.

Debate is expected to last into next week, according to Shelby.

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