We’re more than three months into fiscal year 2022, and congressional lawmakers have yet to agree on full-year spending levels. A stopgap bill passed late last year staved off a potential government shutdown by funding agencies through February 18, but lawmakers continued to be at loggerheads over full-year spending levels.
That’s started to change this week, as the top four appropriators in Congress met Thursday — “amicably,” Politico’s Jennifer Scholtes and Marianne LeVine note — to break their stalemate ahead of the February deadline to fund the government, now five weeks away. “The four of us had constructive talks of where we go and how we get there and how we start,” Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters after the meeting. “And we hadn't worked that out yet, and we’re going to continue to talk and meet.”
Lawmakers are reportedly considering including another round of Covid funding in that legislation as well as a Democratic plan to provide paid pandemic leave to many Americans. “The early talks about pandemic relief have explored ways to boost testing, expand the availability of vaccines, invest in therapeutics and shore up any small businesses that still need financial help,” The Washington Post’s Tony Romm reports in a piece that provides some good background on how we got here. “Some Democrats also hope to provide fresh relief to families, including those who have missed out on work — and paychecks — as a result of the fast-spreading omicron variant.”
The bottom line: The talks, and lawmakers’ comments about them, are a good indication that that long-stalled annual budget and appropriations process is finally moving, but the proposal to provide more pandemic aid also faces uncertainty and plenty of the hurdles that have delayed a deal to this point also remain.
“Republican leaders continue to insist that Democrats agree upfront to maintain dozens of controversial policy restrictions — known as ‘riders,’ like the ban on using federal money for abortions — that crop up every year during government funding debates,” Politico reports. “Democratic leaders have blasted Republicans' insistence that they give in from the get-go to policy restrictions that were baked into prior funding bills, despite controlling both Congress and the presidency.”