Government funding plan appears near — to both punt and advance new funding deals

A stopgap government funding bill is on track for release as early as Wednesday, possibly alongside a final deal on new versions of at least some of the dozen annual spending measures.

To head off a partial shutdown just after midnight Saturday morning, lawmakers have been discussing pushing off the approaching deadline to March 8 to buy time to finalize bill text for the four funding bills that are set to expire this week. At the same time, they are also considering a punt to March 22 — the scheduled start of Congress’ Easter recess — for at least some of the other eight measures, according to three people familiar with the negotiations who were granted anonymity to speak candidly.

But the length of certain bills’ extenstions might change, since some of the eight funding bills currently set to expire next week are also close to being finalized.

The measure that funds the Interior Department and the EPA is “ready to go,” according to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican in charge of that measure in the Senate.

Murkowski said negotiators are “just literally minutes away from being able to resolve” final disputes over the Interior bill. She added that dealmakers worked through disagreements about close to 130 policy stipulations House Republicans included in their version of that measure, “some of which were really quite problematic.”

The funding bill for the departments of Commerce and Justice, as well as science programs, is also close to being finalized, according to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who chairs the funding panel in charge of that legislation. “We’ve agreed on almost everything in it,” Shaheen said in a brief interview late Tuesday night.

Top lawmakers are making “very good progress” in funding negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday on the floor. He asked senators to “stay flexible and be ready to act” to head off a partial government shutdown at week’s end.

“We are very close to getting it done,” Schumer said. “I’m hopeful that the four leaders can reach this agreement very soon so we can not only avoid a shutdown on Friday, but get closer to finishing the appropriations process altogether.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday that he sees “a path” to passing the first four bills currently set to expire after March 1, which would fund the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Veterans Affairs and Transportation, among others.

Three of those measures have been “pretty carefully vetted” in the Senate, going through an amendment process when the upper chamber passed its own small funding package last fall, he said.

“I think there’s a path to getting that first tranche down,” Thune said. “The second tranche is obviously more complicated and maybe needs more time.”

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.

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