Tuesday night’s announcement that Senate and House negotiators secured an agreement on the omnibus spending bill framework is a big deal. With just a few legislative days to go before Christmas, aides and members were growing nervous that Congress was walking right up to the point of no return where there simply wasn’t going to be enough time to pull this together before December 23.
That threat of a shutdown – for now – appears to be over.
That’s not to say the next couple of days won’t be messy. A framework is not legislation and taking an outline and appropriating millions of dollars to every single department across the US government is always a big undertaking.
It is notable that the statement from Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy on Tuesday night didn’t offer many details as to what the spending outline looked like. The statement also didn’t include any reference to House Republicans – because they were largely absent from these talks. With GOP leader Kevin McCarthy locked in a bitter battle for votes to become speaker, there wasn’t much incentive for House Republicans to be involved in a public way. It’s never a good look for a chairman to give negotiations their all only to have their bill whipped against by the leadership team.
It’s a reminder why Democrats were so motivated to get this done now: Punting these talks to January or February only would have meant negotiating with McCarthy, who will be immersed next year in keeping his right flank happy.
Now they draft. With an outline agreed upon, staff will spend the next several days drafting the legislation and dolling out millions of dollars to agencies. Much of this work was already underway before Tuesday night’s announcement, but with a clearer outline, the hope is this work can finally be completed.
As we noted above, this step can get messy. Sticking points (usually a provision dealing with abortion known as the Hyde Amendment) and others come up. This is part of the process. After the bill is drafted, lawmakers are going to have to move fast. The House and Senate will have to take up the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi only has a two-vote margin, but we expect some House Republicans to help offset any Democratic defections in part because there are millions in district projects tucked in this bill that Republicans want to make sure get passed.
Aides and members close to these talks have been telling CNN for days that the incentives to get a deal were always there. Republicans – even leaders such as McCarthy – knew that clearing the deck now would make the first months of their House majority far easier to contend with. Democrats wanted to act now while they had control of the House, Senate and White House and they had maximum power over negotiations.
And for two of these lawmakers – retiring Sens. Leahy and Richard Shelby of Alabama – this was about their legacy. The two men have worked together for decades, have cut a number of massive spending deals and while both demurred there would always be someone else to take up the mantel of appropriations, they wanted to get this done together one last time.