Democrats are arguing for a larger percentage increase in nondefense spending since it was cut drastically under the former guy and Republican Senate, and has not kept pace with increases in Pentagon spending. Republicans are demanding “parity”—the same percentage increase for both sides.
Congress has already agreed to a $778 billion in the 2022 defense authorization bill, some $28 billion over what the Pentagon had even asked for, and 5% more than 2021 fiscal year funding level. That bill, signed by President Joe Biden in December, sets spending levels for the Pentagon but doesn’t actually give them the money to start writing checks without the appropriations bill they’re haggling over now. Republicans want even more than that authorization for the Pentagon’s appropriation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn’t conceding that they’re headed for another continuing resolution as of Thursday. “Right now, we are going back and forth with offers between the Democrats and Republicans and … we’re hoping to reach a deal on a topline very soon on that,” she said at her weekly news conference. The topline refers to the spending cap on defense and nondefense spending.
However, the House is scheduled to be in recess after Wednesday of next week for the remainder of the month, meaning an agreement for the omnibus spending bill would have to be struck by Monday, which is not going to happen. The omnibus spending bill would include 12 separate appropriations bills, a massive undertaking. So the House is preparing to pass another stopgap continuing resolution (CR) next Tuesday.
Sources told Roll Call that it would likely be a three-week funding measure, but it will only move to the floor if the topline agreement is reached by then. That could be an indication that there’s been some progress in negotiations. It could also be Republicans stringing Democrats along because they can. “Negotiations are continuing to make good progress on an appropriations framework,” said Evan Hollander, a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats. “A CR will only be entertained to provide additional time to finalize legislation after a topline agreement is reached.”
Republicans, however, are making no promises about anything. “If it’s a short-term [CR], that would mean probably that we’re making some progress, real progress,” Shelby said. “If it’s longer, we might go … for the rest of the year.”
That’s despite repeated warnings from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the need to get the appropriations done. In early December, when Congress passed the continuing resolution that is about to expire, he said that a long-term stopgap bill would create serious problems for the Pentagon. “A full-year CR would be a fiscally unsound way of funding the Department of Defense and government as a whole,” he said. “It would misalign billions of dollars in resources in a manner inconsistent with evolving threats and the national security landscape, which would erode the U.S. military advantage relative to China, impede our ability to innovate and modernize, degrade readiness, and hurt our people and their families.”
Austin briefed senators Thursday with the same message. Coming out of that briefing, Sen. Chris Murphy said: “We can’t be anchored with a CR as they’re trying to be nimble in Eastern Europe.” He said that Austin’s message to senators was, “Don’t put us on a CR in the middle of a crisis,” adding a CR “would really hurt them right now.”
Meanwhile, the House finished out the week on a high note, passing the science and technology bill designed to help America’s semiconductor chip industry better compete with China in a 222-210 vote. The Senate passed its own version of this bill last year in 68-32 bipartisan vote. The two bills will have to be reconciled, something Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t make easy: “The House bill is a partisan boondoggle loaded with left-wing social spending policies that are entirely unrelated to promoting U.S. competitiveness with China.”