Hopes are dimming of Congress meeting a critical government funding deadline next month, as congressional negotiators struggle to cinch a bipartisan deal on spending during the tight lame-duck session.
Just more than two weeks separate Congress and a Dec. 16 deadline to finalize new funding levels for fiscal 2023, which began in October. But appropriators are signaling more time is needed for talks as key disagreements over how to fund the government remain unresolved.
Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, cast some doubt in remarks to reporters this week that Congress will have its work finished by the funding deadline.
“I don’t know if we’ll get it done by the 16th. The 16th is the date, I’d like to get it done. But we might be here to Christmas. You don’t know,” Shelby said on Monday.
Speculation is rising in Washington over how long Congress plans to punt its funding deadline if it opts for another continuing resolution (CR) for the current fiscal year, and reports have surfaced that the White House preparing for a one-year stopgap funding bill.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, told reporters that it “increasingly” looks like at least a weeklong CR “may be necessary.”
Coons said that he and Sen. Lindsay Graham (S.C.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, have “had a lot of conversations,” but added that a lack of an overall funding deal on top lines is slowing work.
Bipartisan funding talks stalled in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections as anticipation rose over which party would lead Congress next year. But those talks have struggled to pick up momentum since lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill this month, despite an appetite on both sides to hash out a funding deal before Congress ushers in a new Republican-led House in January.
Negotiators have also had trouble resolving multiple longstanding disagreements over issues like defense spending and various legislative riders.
“Frankly, without a top line, without a clear commitment on the part of Republicans to move forward — I’m really concerned we’re at risk of failing to appropriate, which would be a huge failure to do our core job,” Coons said, adding that “continuing a full-year on a CR means we’re not making any changes in policy from last year.”
Shelby said he thinks “some serious negotiation will probably come about” next week, after the Georgia Senate runoff race is decided between Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and Republican Herschel Walker on Dec. 6.
Shelby, who is retiring at the end of the session, is one of a number of Senate Republicans who have been hopeful that Congress can strike a bipartisan deal next month to keep the government funded through fiscal 2023.
But GOP leaders have expressed uncertainty about the chances of such an agreement in recent weeks, as a chunk of Republicans in both chambers have called for a delay of new government funding until next year to allow the new Congress more say in how spending levels should be set.
GOP divisions over funding have also garnered more attention recently amid simmering tensions between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former President Trump in light in the recent midterm elections — in which Republicans failed to take control of the Senate and won narrow control of the lower chamber.