Senate holds off on vote avoiding shutdown, keeps stopgap funding vehicle

Sen. David Perdue announced the Senate would instead vote at 11:30 a.m. Thursday to send the stopgap bill directly to the president’s desk

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., exits the Senate subway in May. Lankford and other senators are working to pass a continuing resolution, averting a Thursday shutdown and giving the House and Senate more time to come up with compromise versions of fiscal 2020 spending bills to the president’s desk next month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate no longer plans to change the legislative vehicle for a monthlong stopgap spending bill, following hours of back-and-forth discussions Wednesday.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hoped to change the legislative vehicle and approve the temporary funding bill by the end of the day.

[House votes to avoid shutdown, continue spending talks until December]

Senate appropriators had wanted to preserve the shell that House lawmakers used as a vehicle to carry compromise versions of fiscal 2020 spending bills to the president’s desk next month.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get a legislative vehicle that we can continue to be able to work for conference between our appropriation bills,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., told reporters earlier Wednesday. “That makes it a little more complicated. [The House] sent us over the only legislative vehicle that we could really use to be able to really work through the appropriation process, so we’ve got to solve that part.”

Senate leaders had planned to swap out the House-passed shell for a spending bill the House passed way back in January during the 35-day government shutdown. A Republican senator reportedly objected to changing the vehicle, according to an appropriations aide.

During the Senate’s daily wrap up, Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue announced the Senate would instead vote at 11:30 a.m. Thursday to send the stopgap bill directly to the president’s desk. President Donald Trump’s chief liaison to Capitol Hill, Eric Ueland, said in a statement Wednesday that Trump “remains on track” to sign the continuing resolution.

Perdue said that before passage, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., would be recognized to offer an amendment, but the Senate would vote to table it. Paul said earlier his amendment would require across-the-board spending cuts of about 1 percent to fund infrastructure projects.

Before the House passed the measure Tuesday, lawmakers in that chamber tried to change the vehicle to a commemorative coin bill. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, objected, forcing the House to use the vehicle that carried each chamber’s respective Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Interior-Environment and Transportation-HUD bills. The House passed its version June 25, the Senate on Oct. 31.

The temporary funding bill is designed to give appropriators more time to decide how to divvy up $1.37 trillion in spending between the 12 annual spending bills and approve the final bills.

Talks on those subcommittee allocations, known as 302(b)s, were not going particularly well earlier this week, but vastly improved during the past 24 hours, according to Shelby.

“They keep improving,” he told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “They improved vastly from yesterday, but we haven’t gotten quite there yet. But as far as getting close to the numbers, we are getting close to the numbers.”

Shelby said border wall funding backed by Trump remains an open issue, with Democrats opposed to more money for the project and seeking to keep the matter separate from the ongoing allocations talks.

“Then we’ve still got to deal with the wall, too. It’s two separate things, yet the wall is still there,” Shelby said.

House Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., said Shelby’s comments are “a good sign” and that “you never know” when discussions are going to wrap up.

“I’m always an optimist,” Lowey said.

Automatic CR

Earlier Wednesday, there had been talk that Lankford wanted to offer an amendment to add his bill to implement an automatic continuing resolution in the event spending bills aren’t completed by the start of a new fiscal year. Until the bills are finished, Lankford’s bill would block official travel for White House and Cabinet officials and House and Senate lawmakers and their aides.

Lankford told CQ Roll Call he didn’t plan to try to offer the amendment, however.

Shelby was critical of Lankford’s proposal, which along with lead co-sponsor Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., has five other Senate co-sponsors. He said it could “mess up the appropriations process even more than it is.”

The House passed the stopgap measure Tuesday, 231-192, with 10 Democrats voting against it and 12 Republicans supporting it. Senate action Wednesday to replace the vehicle would have kicked the bill back to the House for a do-over vote. The current CR expires at midnight Thursday.

The new stopgap measure would continue to fund discretionary programs mostly at current spending levels, with a few exceptions and additions of unrelated policy items.

Republicans were frustrated ahead of the House vote about a provision that would block a $7.6 billion scheduled cancellation of authorized highway spending on July 1, 2020. The rescission was included as a budget gimmick to keep overall costs down on the 2015 highway law.

The Congressional Budget Office doesn’t “score” repeal of the provision as increasing deficits, however, since the highway program is assumed to continue at current funding levels anyway. But Republicans argued it was fiscally irresponsible, and Budget Committee ranking member Steve Womack, R-Ark., had filed an amendment to offset the cut with $76 billion in mandatory spending cuts over a decade, equal to the increase in authorized highway funding that would occur under the provision.

David Lerman, Paul M. Krawzak and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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