Senate negotiators are planning to unveil their annual government appropriations bills by the end of the month, as lawmakers struggle to hash out a larger bipartisan deal on how to fund the government amid disagreements over defense spending.
A spokesperson for the Senate Appropriations Committee confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that appropriators are working to draft funding legislation “to release to the public at the end of July,” with Congress slated to enter an almost month-long state work period beginning in early August.
The news comes as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Appropriations panel, is still recovering following hip replacement surgery, after suffering a fall in his home during the July 4 recess.
“The chairman is continuing to work closely with his Subcommittee Chairs and staff to complete the work of the Committee during his recovery,” Jay Tilton, Senate Appropriations Committee press secretary for the majority, said on Tuesday.
The House is already gearing up to begin voting on its first batch of fiscal 2023 funding bills in the days ahead, after appropriators in the lower chamber spent the past month marking up more than a trillion dollars in proposed spending legislation and passing it out of committee.
While negotiators on the Senate side say they’ve also been working to craft legislation, some have expressed frustration with the progress made in the upper chamber.
“We should be having full committee, subcommittee hearings, markups, but we’re not as of now,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, told The Hill on Tuesday. “There’s no agreement on a topline, and that’s unfortunate. That’s a missed opportunity.”
Appropriators have pointed to disagreements on defense spending as one of the biggest holdups to both sides coming to an agreement on an overall topline, as they iron out allocations for government offices for the next fiscal year.
Last month, the House Appropriations Committee passed its own version of the fiscal year 2023 defense bill that provided about $761.7 billion in total funding, an amount up $32.2 billion from the current fiscal year that is also on par with what President Biden asked for in his budget request earlier this year.
However, Republicans have balked at the figure, saying more is needed for parity in increase for defense and nondefense spending, while also citing rising inflation as reason for a higher dollar amount.
“It’s not the only hurdle, but it’s a big hurdle,” Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The Hill on Tuesday. He instead pointed to the recent version of the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which provided a $45 billion increase above Biden’s request for defense dollars, as “a good step in the right direction.”
“It’s not enough. But it’s a good step,” Shelby said.
In absence of a topline agreement, some negotiators say they’ve been working across the aisle to produce text somewhat close to what the final version could look like.
“I spoke to my subcommittee chair this morning and we have a good working relationship, and we’ll try to produce the bill as reasonably close to what we would have produced in a regular order proceeding in the subcommittee,” Coons said.
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, told The Hill that the legislation could “at least” provide “a framework to work on when you’re ready to produce a result.”’’
But, he added, not having a top line “makes it unlikely that any of this effort produces a result yet.”
Lawmakers currently have until the end of September, when current government funding is scheduled to lapse, to pass the 12 annual appropriations bills.
But negotiators say they’re already looking down a continuing resolution, which will allow the government to temporarily remain funded at the prior year’s fiscal levels, to punt the deadline as top lawmakers work to finalize a deal.
Last year, Congress passed three continuing resolutions to avert a shutdown before passing a $1.5 trillion spending omnibus package for fiscal 2022 in March.