Senate eyes new bill that would push the deadline to avoid government shutdown

WASHINGTON (NBC News) — The Senate is eyeing a one-week stopgap bill to push back a Friday deadline to fund the government, as negotiators continue to pursue a full-year funding agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put members on notice to expect a “continuing resolution,” or CR, this week to avert a government shutdown “that neither side wants,” as Congress closes in on a spending package leaders hope both parties can support.

“Over the weekend, appropriators held positive and productive conversations — enough that both sides are moving forward in good faith to reach a deal, even if it’s not going to be everything both sides want,” Schumer said on Monday when the Senate returned to session. “Later this week, members should be prepared to take quick action on a CR — a one-week CR, so we can give appropriators more time to finish a full funding bill before the holidays.”

Schumer’s remarks represent optimism that the two parties will reach a broader deal that has eluded them for months. Heading into the weekend, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the top GOP appropriator, said the parties were about $26 billion apart on how much to spend.

Part of the struggle to agree on an overall spending level is that Republican leaders say military funding should be higher than nondefense funding in the larger package.

“Both sides know what it would take for the Senate to pass a full-year government funding bill into law,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday afternoon. “Our Democratic colleagues have already spent two years massively, massively increasing domestic spending using party-line reconciliation bills outside the normal appropriations process.”

He said that if Democrats can accept less nondefense money, “we may still have a shot at assembling a full-year funding bill” this month. “If our Democratic colleagues can’t accept those realities, the option will be a short-term bipartisan funding bill into early next year.”

Among some Senate Republicans, there is a desire to get it done.

“These things always seem really, really difficult. And then … when they come together, they seem to come together pretty quickly,” Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., a member of the Appropriations Committee, said Monday, although he warned that Congress will “just run out of days” if members can’t reach a larger deal quickly.

Boozman said he understands why some Republicans want to delay the issue until next year, when his party will take control of the House. But he said he’d prefer to finish it this year. “Personally I think it would be smart to go ahead and get it done,” he said.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a staunchly conservative congressman, immediately called on Republicans to reject the stopgap bill, which would extend the deadline from Dec. 16 to Dec. 23.

There are at least four Republicans in the Senate who have publicly called for punting on government funding until next year so that the GOP-controlled House can rewrite the bill. If any one of those senators objects to quick passage of a stopgap measure, it could potentially force a government shutdown.

Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is retiring at the end of this term, said he believes Congress can still succeed at passing an omnibus this year.

“I think we will get somewhere. I just wish it had been several months ago when he could have done the same thing,” he said on Monday. “If we don’t, we’ve failed the country. Certainly, defense will be much, much lower. Nondefense will be much, much lower. Education will be much, much lower. Everything that everybody says they’re for will be much, much lower without an omnibus.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he “shouldn’t tempt fate” when reporters asked if a new funding deadline of Dec. 23 would hold.

“I’ve been here long enough. I’m troubled by the possibility that this will drag on. I’ve been here Christmas Eve, things drag on. I’ve been here New Year’s Eve, too,” Durbin said. “So I’m very concerned. I think we ought to move on this quickly and responsibly.”