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Spending Fight Drags On
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Spending Fight Drags On

Lawmakers will take up short-term spending ahead of a shutdown deadline looming next week.

Good morning from Capitol Hill. I’m back in town after a few days in balmy Miami and trying my best to hold onto that sunshine serenity this week.

Kicking the Can

Lawmakers are planning to vote this week on a short-term funding bill to avert a government shutdown deadline next week. 

The House is set to take up the measure, which would extend funding through March 11, later today. If passed by both chambers, it will buy top appropriators more time to reach a larger deal to keep the government running this year. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer over the weekend called those talks “very vigorous” and expressed optimism about striking a deal.

At issue, among other disagreements, are the percentages by which defense and nondefense spending will increase. Most Republicans want to see a boost in defense spending, while Democrats want a larger hike for nondefense spending. Here’s more from Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson:

“We think the defense number needs to go up to at least what has been authorized by both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees,” said House Rules ranking member Tom Cole, R-Okla., referring to the 5 percent boost over last year proposed in the fiscal 2022 defense authorization law.

On the other hand, House Democrats have proposed about 16 percent more than fiscal 2021 nondefense levels, while Senate Democrats have sought nearly 14 percent more once extra veterans health care funds are accounted for. “I think we’re pretty firm on our side that the domestic number needs to come down,” Cole said.

The debate over priorities isn’t new—it plays out every time a spending package is negotiated—but this one has faced notable delays. The unresolved spending measure was supposed to address the fiscal year beginning at the start of October. This week’s stopgap funding bill will be the third (thus far) for fiscal year 2022.

It is unclear if both chambers can agree to and approve a deal before March 11—the House and Senate both have recesses planned soon, and even after consensus on the topline numbers emerges, it will take time for negotiators to work out the smaller details of the legislation and for congressional staff to draft it.

Asked Monday night if negotiators could still be talking about the topline numbers when March 11 comes around, Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters, “Well, you don’t know. You don’t know for sure. But we’ve been working a lot.” 

Meanwhile, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said she thinks “we’re very close.”

Still, she noted the procedural steps yet to come: “This is not the end, this is the beginning,” she added.

Sanctions in the Spotlight

Senators hope to reach an agreement this week for a package of sanctions to deter Russian leader Vladimir Putin from launching a new invasion into Ukraine. 

Republicans and Democrats have differed on the timing: Republicans want to impose sanctions now, while Democrats have called for sanctions that are contingent on a new invasion. Lawmakers are also debating how best to support the Ukrainian government through defense aid. The top members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been in talks over the past couple of weeks for an approach that can win the 60 votes needed to pass. 

Senators are feeling a sense of urgency: “This is one of those issues in which you don’t have the luxury of time,” Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez said after a classified briefing with administration officials last week. “You want to make an impact, the sooner the better.”

“Collectively, what I heard only makes the case that this is more pressing, more timely, and that time in this regard—if we want to be preventative—is of the essence,” he added.

Menendez is expected to discuss the situation at 3 p.m. today during an event hosted by the Washington Post. Livestream available here.

Trade Woes

Last week, we wrote to you about one of the eye-catching changes House Democratic leaders made to their version of a China competitiveness package. Before that, we took a broader look at the bill’s provisions. The House approved the measure on a nearly party-line vote last week, with all but one Republican voting against it. The vote will kick off a process for the two chambers to work through the differences between their two proposals in the coming weeks.

The House bill’s trade provisions—including additional tariffs on shipments from China and more stringent requirements for a program that eliminates tariffs for many products from less developed countries—reverberated beyond just the Republican conference. Some Democrats expressed concerns with the changes behind the scenes, and the sole Democrat to vote against the bill, retiring Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, cited its trade provisions as the reason she opposed it.

“The trade section of the bill includes problematic, poorly-vetted provisions and excludes sensible, bipartisan provisions that were part of the Senate-passed version of the bill,” she said after the vote. “The House bill does more to limit trade than to enhance trade, even though expanded trade helps far more American workers than it hurts, reduces the prices that American consumers pay for goods and services, and is a powerful weapon in our strategic competition with China.”

On the Floor

The Senate approved two judicial nominees last night—Ebony Scott and Donald Tunnage—to be associate judges on the D.C. superior court. The chamber has several more nominees scheduled for consideration this week. Later today, senators will vote on confirmation of Amy Gutmann to be ambassador to Germany.

The House, meanwhile, overwhelmingly approved bipartisan legislation last night to end forced arbitration agreements for sexual assault and harassment cases. Read more here

House members will also consider a postal service reform bill later this week that has support from both parties. 

Key Hearings

  • U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is appearing before the Senate Finance Committee this morning to discuss mental health care for kids and teenagers during the coronavirus pandemic. Information and livestream here.

  • The House Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing this morning on protecting houses of worship, focusing on the perspective of the Jewish community. Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, is testifying. Information and livestream here.

  • A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is meeting with a panel of experts this morning for a hearing on establishing a new advanced health research agency. Information and livestream here.

  • Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow afternoon on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Information and livestream here.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet tomorrow morning to examine the legality of targeted killings over the past 20 years of American drone strikes. Information and livestream here.

Book Alert

Get excited! Friend of The Dispatch John Daly’s latest thriller, Restitution, is out today

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.