Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Dec. 19 that he and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are trying to reach an agreement to prevent the government from shutting down when the current continuing resolution (CR) that funds federal operations expires in a few days.
“Those conversations, I think, will speed up after the tax [reform] bill clears” the Senate late Dec. 19, McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. “We’ll have more to say about what that will look like sometime tomorrow.”
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has introduced legislation that would fully fund defense for the rest of fiscal year 2018 and fund the rest of the government at FY 2017 levels through Jan. 19 (Defense Daily, Dec. 14). But Schumer has objected, saying Senate Democrats would block the legislation because it would not treat non-defense and defense programs equally.
The House Rules Committee was considering Frelinghuysen’s proposal late Dec. 19, and the full House was slated to take up the measure Dec. 20. But committee Democrats said they expect the Senate to remove the special treatment for defense and send the legislation back to the House.
The current CR has been in effect since Dec. 8 and expires Dec. 22. It succeeded a CR that took effect when FY 2018 began Oct. 1. Pentagon and defense industry leaders have complained that such stop-gap measures make long-term planning difficult, harming military readiness and modernization.
"The longer the CR, the more damaging it is," Defense Department spokesman Christopher Sherwood said.
Separately, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled an $81 billion emergency disaster aid bill (H.R. 4667) late Dec. 18 that includes $1.5 billion for defense agencies to repair damaged facilities and fix and replace damaged equipment.
The defense money would be allocated among the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Reserves, National Guard, Coast Guard and military medical facilities. The legislation also would provide $81.3 million to repair NASA facilities.
The disaster bill, introduced by Frelinghuysen, is designed to continue relief and recovery efforts in areas affected by major hurricanes and other recent natural disasters.
In other congressional news, the Senate voted, 74-23, late Dec. 18 to confirm Marine veteran and Goldman Sachs executive Owen West to be assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. Army veteran Mark Mitchell has been serving as acting assistant secretary.