Today on the Hill: Senate Leaders Near Budget Deal

Congress moved one step closer to avoiding a government shutdown last night, voting overwhelmingly (245-182) to pass a short-term, GOP-backed government funding bill (text; section-by-section) that would to keep the government running beyond the midnight Thursday deadline. While the bill includes a wide array of bipartisan health care provisions, the measure garnered minimal support from Democrats, who have demanded parity in spending for defense and non-defense programs.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where the emerging strategy is to add a bipartisan budget caps deal to the CR and strip out the defense funding. Senate leaders are racing to finalize a massive, two-year deal that would lift stiff budget caps for both defense and non-defense spending programs in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 by a total of approximately $300 billion. The deal would serve to break a months-long stalemate that has plagued the appropriations process, and could result in an omnibus finally being passed in March. In addition, Senate leaders are discussing whether they can lift the debt ceiling, include an $81 billion disaster aid package, and add various tax extenders.

While no final decision has been made, but the agreement could be announced as early as midday today (Wednesday). Our sources have indicated that the negotiations were still not completed as of this morning, as the debt ceiling and disaster aid package are still under consideration. If all goes to plan, the Senate will amend the short-term spending bill passed by the House and send the package back for the House’s approval just before the deadline. Meanwhile, House Democrats moved their annual retreat in Cambridge, Maryland to the Capitol in anticipation of having to vote on the Senate’s plan.

In scheduled business today, the Senate will consider a House-passed defense-only appropriations bill (H.R.695) while negotiations continue over the final CR. A roll call vote may also occur on the House-passed CR/defense “CRomnibus” — which would serve to demonstrate to House Republicans there are not 60 votes for their bill to clear a cloture motion. In the House, floor debate will commence on the Mortgage Choice Act (H.R. 1153), but no votes are expected in the lower chamber until the Senate completes their work on the CR.