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As a Stopgap Measure, a Deal on the Fiscal 2023 Spending Framework Has Been Reached

Appropriators in both parties indicate Democrats are willing to accept a smaller non-defense allocation to complete an omnibus measure next week. Negotiators say they’re close to a framework deal that will allow them to craft the final fiscal 2023 budget package.

We’re very close to producing an omnibus appropriations measure that would be, I think, generally appealing,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. The emerging compromise would set defense spending at $858 billion, in accordance with the Senate’s yearly authorizing measure this week, “without having to pay a bonus over what President Biden asked for, for domestic goals of the Democrats,” the Kentucky Republican added.

Senate Republicans have pledged not to exceed Biden’s $1.65 trillion topline, leaving $787 billion for non-defense expenditure. Compared to defense spending, that would be an 8 percent or $57 billion rise. Democrats wanted a nondefense increase of almost 11% or $83 billion. Given Democrats’ two major partisan budget laws this Congress, Republicans say that’s too large.

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The dollar “delta” is diminishing. While negotiators wouldn’t discuss numbers, Democrats appear to be heading toward the Senate GOP position to reach an agreement before Republicans win control of the House next Congress.

“We’re not done and anything might fall apart at any minute, but the sentiment is strong, and the gap in terms of the monetary amount difference is shrinking,” Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said following the Democratic Caucus lunch Tuesday. “We’re balancing.”

Despite being “pretty hopeful,” Schatz did not expect a topline deal Tuesday. “Maybe today,” Senate Appropriations ranking member Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said earlier Tuesday. After the Democratic Caucus lunch, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer observed, “There are still some disagreements.”

“Our best” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said House Democrats want to raise nondefense spending. Still, House Democratic appropriations have started to hint they’re willing to accept a lame-duck compromise that doesn’t go as far as they desire given the party will be in a weaker negotiating position next year when Republicans take control of the House.

“The framework was created yesterday to say, ‘we’re battling as much as we can; we’ll try our best because next year is going to be even tougher.'” Senior appropriator Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, stated. During their Steering and Policy Committee meeting Monday night, Democrats discussed omnibus negotiations.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro said Democratic negotiators must craft the best deal possible given voting margins in both chambers and sell it to their members. “We have some very, very positive things in the plan,” the Connecticut Democrat remarked. No bill will satisfy you. They know.”

DeLauro declined to predict the numbers, citing ongoing challenges. Veterans health care funds may be one. Both parties support a nearly 22%, or $21 billion, increase over fiscal 2022. There’s been talk of making part of that financing mandatory to protect Democrats’ other non-defense priorities.

House Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fl., stated that the debate was ongoing. An omnibus deal will begin in the Senate next week. That shows bipartisan backing for House holdouts on both sides.

Senate Republicans refuse to stay past Dec. 22. “This must be completed by the 22nd evening. McConnell stated that they would return home on the 23rd. We won’t return between Christmas and New Year’s. We’d be willing to pass a short-term CR through early next year if we miss that deadline.

Democrats argue that only a prolonged CR can replace an omnibus. Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., told reporters that a continuing resolution would last until the end of next year since the House would never be able to pass an omnibus. “Defense, nondefense, COVID [assistance] cuts.” If you’re right or left, you prefer cuts.”

Thune noted that Congress has never passed a full-year CR for all 12 spending bills. He believes Democrats would negotiate a CR. Thune said legislators need an omnibus agreement swiftly to avoid that negotiation. “We’re practically past the point of no return merely in terms of writing it up, reviewing it, scrubbing it, and all that,” he said.

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