(Bloomberg) — Congressional negotiators are working to settle final sticking points over military and health-care spending in a plan to finance the U.S. government and avoid a second shutdown in four months.
Current government funding runs out in a week, on Jan. 15.
Republican efforts to block the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) were at the center of a dispute that caused a 16-day government shutdown in October.
“We’re looking at narrowing the differences, looking at what’s the negotiation space and how we can compromise without capitulation on both sides,” Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., told reporters in Washington yesterday. Environmental rules also are among the final issues.
Top House and Senate appropriators met face-to-face yesterday for the first time this year. The encyclopedic spending bill would finance the government through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Lawmakers are working from a December budget deal that set a spending total at about $1.01 trillion.
While the goal is to write spending bills covering all parts of the government, lawmakers also are discussing a backup plan to avoid a shutdown.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the second-ranking House Democrat, said there has been talk of a short-term spending bill — perhaps covering a couple of days — “because they may not be able to get a deal done in time.”
Another option, which top appropriators say they want to avoid, would be to essentially keep current funding for some of the 12 sections of the spending bill. That would be a sign that even with an agreed spending target, Congress couldn’t do its job of funding the implementation of laws already on the books.
Negotiators are near agreement to fund implementation of PPACA, said Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the panel that sets spending for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).