It’s 15 days until funding for government—still operating at the levels from the former guy’s last year—expires. The government has been operating on the Republican budget levels passed in 2020, with continuing resolutions. Those are stop-gap bills that continue funding at already approved levels until regular appropriations are enacted.
Republicans dragged the appropriations process out through the whole of 2021 to ensure that President Joe Biden would have to abide by their budget for his first year in office. The only opportunity that the Biden administration has had to push its agenda was in the massive American Rescue Plan COVID relief bill, which has been essential but limited.
That’s left most agencies of the government continuing to operate under Trump-forced cuts, struggling under years of austerity. The Biden administration tried to remedy some of that in its budget request for FY22, adding across-the-board increases—up to as much as 40% over previous levels.
House and Senate appropriators, including Republicans, have been going back and forth on that budget for nearly a year now. With yet another deadline looming, they’re making slow progress. Slow is more than nothing, which has been the case up until now, so ... maybe they’ll come out the other end with an omnibus spending bill in two weeks?
That includes two days of meetings and Republicans actually putting forward an offer. That could be an indication that they’re ready to accept a longer-term deal—the omnibus that would carry the government through September, the end of the fiscal year. The combination of potential military action in Ukraine and the omicron variant proving that we are nowhere near done with COVID could be pushing Republicans to consider participating in government.
One part of their bending could be the fact that billions of dollars in the big hard infrastructure bill passed last fall can’t be disbursed until the departments that will send out the checks get the money to do so. Republicans also likely feel that, thanks to Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Biden is not going to have any win on the larger domestic and climate spending Build Back Better package, so they can give on this.
That Republicans have finally made an offer—with a third of the fiscal year already over and a two-week deadline—should be taken as at least a measure of seriousness in doing this. But they’re still going to put up a fight over what Democrats want to do, which includes a boost in domestic spending and potential pandemic spending, including to boost testing, therapeutics and vaccine access at home and abroad and possible additional help to workers, with pandemic-related paid family and medical leave. The White House is also preparing a supplemental request for public health funding, but haven’t provided that as of yet.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he’d reject more pandemic funding because the nation has spent enough on COVID relief. “Let’s start the discussion by talking about repurposing the hundreds of billions already sitting in the pipeline,” McConnell said on the floor Wednesday. Democrats could counter with bumped up federal disaster relief, including for his state of Kentucky, where tornadoes devastated huge swaths of the state last fall.
Beyond that, a group of 49 Republican dunderheads, Fox News reports, have declared they will shut down the government over the “tyrannical” COVID vaccine mandate for medical workers and federal employees and contractors. The group includes Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Mike Lee of Utah. (Because of course it does.) They’re not going to be able to make it actually happen—there aren’t enough of them and there is no appetite among the less nihilistic Republicans to take the blame for a shutdown.
While that’s going on in the background, the Senate is churning through more nominees, which is the major business happening for this week. The White House is also providing a full-Senate briefing on the Ukraine situation on Thursday.
The House is continuing to work through amendments on the America COMPETES Act of 2022, the bill intended to help ease supply chain issues and, in part, boost American semiconductor chip manufacturers’ ability to compete with China. The Senate has already passed a version of the bill, which is polling really well with voters.
Congress in recess, but negotiations continue on BBB, avoiding a February government shutdown
Sleeper bill aimed at easing supply chain woes has broad public support, actual chance of passing
Budget process explainer: How Senate Republicans are going to make the next weeks and months hell for all of us