Congressional Leaders Plot a Continuing Resolution into December
The federal fiscal year ends September 30, which will bring to a head major spending questions ranging from continuing military assistance to Ukraine to more money for vaccines and disaster aid. Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations remain unapproved and are likely to be swept into an omnibus spending bill or, more likely, postponed by passage of a continuing resolution.
The Biden administration has taken pains to reassure Ukrainian officials with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken going to Kyiv to announce the latest $675 million tranche of military aid and sending a $13.7 billion request to Congress. The new White House funding request, which includes money for weapons, Ukraine’s government and energy supply mitigation in winter months, was met with initial hesitancy on Capitol Hill by both Democrats and Republicans.
“I’m not opposed to it. I just want to know what’s in it,” said Montana Senator Jon Tester, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. Other senators encouraged President Biden to expend $2.8 billion in remaining spending authority before a new request is considered.
Ukraine aid is part of a broader $47 billion emergency package proposed by Biden to continue to fight COVID, strengthen the response to the monkeypox outbreak and provide funding for disaster relief in Kentucky. The request sets up a clash over spending levels and priorities before the end of September and on the run-up to November midterm elections. The specter of a pre-election government shutdown will cast a shadow over negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.
These partisan battles often result in a political draw, which takes the form of a continuing resolution to allow more time for negotiations and possibly push final votes on FY 2023 spending until after the election. That potential could lead the Biden administration to push Congress for stand-alone Ukrainian aid legislation at a pivotal time when Ukraine is launching a counter-offensive to retake Russian-held areas in the southern part of the country along the Black Sea.
News reports indicate Russia is resupplying its forces with weapons acquired from other countries, including North Korea and Iran. Frontline Ukrainian troops say Russians are employing drones, counter-battery radar and newly constructed bunkers to repel Ukrainian advances. They also say Russian hackers have figured out how to commandeer Ukrainian drones.
All 12 federal appropriations bills are out of committee and ready for floor votes. Six have passed the House under a special rule approved on a party-line vote. None have passed the Senate. The Defense, Homeland Security and State-Foreign Operations appropriations are among the six that haven’t been voted on by either the House or Senate.
Congressional feuding over pandemic funding has led to calls for stopgap funding until December 16, leaving a month after the November election for negotiations. Those negotiations could be further complicated if Republicans regain control of the House, Senate or both. Democratic and Republican Senate Appropriations Committee leaders expressed general agreement last week on a mid-December date for a continuing resolution.
Biden has asked for his $47 billion emergency package, which includes additional Ukrainian assistance, to be added to the continuing resolution. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has argued for a continuing resolution “as clean as possible” to keep government running without spending disputes. McConnell, who represents Kentucky, did leave an opening for some additional Ukraine aid and disaster relief.
The stumbling block for added COVID and public health funding is the lack of agreement on spending offsets. An earlier effort by Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney faltered during the summer. Romney said Biden’s latest request offers no spending offsets.
Congressional feuding over pandemic funding has led to calls for stopgap funding until December 16, leaving a month after the November election for negotiations.
An effort to codify same-sex marriage as a provision of a continuing resolution has faltered. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said a separate vote on the issue would be scheduled later in September. However, Schumer does intend to add infrastructure permitting procedures, which he negotiated with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin as part of the budget reconciliation package that contained climate action provisions, to the continuing resolution. That add-on could run into opposition from House Democratic progressives who would have leverage if the GOP caucus lines up against the spending measure.
The end game would be for an omnibus appropriations bill to be approved before the end of the year in a lame duck session and the start of a new Congress, with potentially split control. One contrary voice to that idea is Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott who wants the continuing resolution to extend until the new Congress is seated in January. There is some bipartisan support for the lame duck session that would allow a positive swan song for departing long-time senators including Democrat Patrick Leahy and Republican Richard Shelby.