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Bipartisan, bicameral deal on spending levels reached as lawmakers work to approve omnibus before December 11th deadline
Should Congress approve an omnibus spending bill to avoid a shutdown?
By Eric Revell, Countable News
What’s the story?
- The top ranking appropriators in Congress have reportedly reached a deal on spending levels that will allow lawmakers to begin drafting a spending package to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2021 ahead of a fast-approaching deadline to avoid a partial government shutdown on December 11th.
- House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) have reached agreement on the amount of top-line funding to be provided under each of the 12 appropriations categories, figures which are known as 302(b) allocations.
- It’s still unclear what the top-lines will be, but the overall total of discretionary funding for FY2021 will likely be near $1.4 trillion. Discretionary spending excludes mandatory spending on programs such as Medicare and Medicaid (about $1.3 trillion in FY2020), Social Security (roughly $1.1 trillion in FY2020), and paying interest on the national debt (pegged at $382 billion in FY2020).
- So far, lawmakers have kept negotiations over FY2021 government funding legislation separate from those over a coronavirus relief package, and it’s unclear whether Congress will be able to approve both before the end of the lame duck session.
- With the allocations agreed to, appropriations committee staffers can begin drafting legislation at the subcommittee level. Once those bills are drafted, bipartisan congressional leaders in both chambers will need to figure out the best way to pass the legislation through Congress before midnight on December 11th.
- The amount of time lawmakers have available to consider the package after it’s written and ready for the floor will factor into how they deal with its approval.
- Omnibus: Congress could package all 12 appropriations bills into a single “omnibus” bill. While the omnibus approach minimizes the potential for procedural delays by allowing Congress to consider one bill instead of several (which makes it a frequent fallback for lawmakers), it attracts controversy because omnibus bills usually run more than 1,000 pages in length, impeding transparency.
- Minibuses: In recent years, Congress has considered “minibus” spending legislation that bundles several of the 12 appropriations bills (usually three or four) into a smaller package than an omnibus. This approach is typically used earlier in the appropriations process, but Congress could turn to it in this case, especially if a unanimous consent agreement can be reached.
- Continuing Resolution (CR): If the government funding deadline is approaching and it becomes apparent that Congress needs additional time to process the spending package, it may pass a short-term stop gap CR that could last for several days, weeks, or months and fund government agencies at current levels for the duration while negotiations continue.
- Hybrid Approach: If Congress is able to reach a bipartisan agreement on some of the spending bills but remains deadlocked on others, it may approve a minibus that funds part of the government along with a CR that extends funding for other agencies temporarily.
- An important consideration in this process is that it can take several days for the Senate to consider and pass legislation when there isn’t unanimous consent among senators to speed the process up.
- If there’s unanimous consent, the Senate can bypass normal procedural obstacles and proceed straight to the consideration of the underlying package, potentially through an agreement that involves votes on amendments favored by reluctant senators.
- Without unanimous consent, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have to file a cloture motion on the spending bill (or bills) to limit further debate and overcome a legislative filibuster by senators opposed to the bill.
- By rule, a cloture motion has to “ripen” for one day after it’s filed, so if it’s filed on a Monday the cloture vote would occur on Wednesday. If at least 60 senators vote in favor, further debate would be limited to 30 hours, setting up a passage vote Thursday or Friday depending on the timing of the vote.
- Given those potential time constraints, the House will likely need to pass the spending package by December 4th to ensure the Senate has time to process the package before the government funding deadline is reached.
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / Olga Kaya)
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