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Congress faces time crunch on government funding and sweeping defense policy bill

<i>Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images</i><br/>Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are scrambling to try to fund the government and pass a sweeping defense policy bill before a new Congress is sworn in
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Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are scrambling to try to fund the government and pass a sweeping defense policy bill before a new Congress is sworn in

By Clare Foran, Ted Barrett, Kristin Wilson and Ali Zaslav, CNN

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are scrambling to try to fund the government and pass a sweeping defense policy bill before a new Congress is sworn in, but there are signs that both sides have struggled to reach agreement over these key outstanding issues.

Government funding expires at the end of next week on December 16 — and it appears all but certain that lawmakers will have to pass a short-term extension as they try to reach a broader full-year funding agreement.

Separately, the House has been expected to take up the National Defense Authorization bill for fiscal year 2023 this week, but it’s not yet clear when a vote will take place amid questions over whether certain controversial policy provisions will be included in the legislation — like eliminating a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for the military. Once the House has passed the bill, it would next have be taken up by the Senate.

Government funding

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell warned on Tuesday that rather than passing a full-year funding bill, lawmakers may have to pass a short-term stop-gap measure to kick the can into early next year. This would set up a huge funding fight and create fears of a government shutdown early in the new Congress, when Republicans will take control of the House and would have to cut a deal with Democrats who run the Senate.

On government funding legislation, McConnell said: “We don’t have agreement to do virtually anything, which can only leave us with the option of a short-term CR into early next year,” referring to a short-term bill known as a continuing resolution.

He added: “We don’t even have an overall agreement on how much we’re going to spend, and we’re running out of time.”

Despite the threat of a stop-gap, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reiterated on Tuesday that senators are “working very hard” to reach a deal to fully fund the government before the upcoming deadline, but acknowledged that “there’s a lot of negotiating left to do.”

Senate Republican Whip John Thune signaled Tuesday that he doesn’t have a “high level of confidence” both parties will be able to reach a deal on an omnibus government funding bill, as time is running short to pass that massive bill.

“I don’t have a high level of confidence because I’m looking at the calendar,” the South Dakota Republican said. “It’ll be a very heavy lift, but who knows? I guess I would say is, you know, bring your Yuletide carols and all that stuff here because we may be singing to each other.”

Defense policy bill

McConnell complained Tuesday that Democrats were preventing quick passage of the National Defense Authorization Act by trying to add unrelated items at the last minute that Republicans oppose.

“Senate Democrats are still obstructing efforts to close out the NDAA by trying to jam in unrelated items with no relationship whatsoever to defense. We’re talking about a grab bag of miscellaneous pet priorities,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor.

“My colleagues across the aisle need to cut their unrelated hostage taking and put a bipartisan NDAA on the floor,” he added.

Lawmakers released text of an agreement for the NDAA Tuesday night.

The summary, released by the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it “requires the Secretary of Defense to rescind the mandate that members of the Armed Forces be vaccinated against COVID-19.”

CNN reported earlier this week that the mandate was likely to be rescinded as part of the defense policy bill.

In a tweeted statement Tuesday night, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy said that “the end of President Biden’s military COVID vaccine mandate is a victory for our military and for common sense.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said earlier Tuesday that the House was considering eliminating the Covid-19 vaccine mandate for military members in order to gather enough Republican votes to pass the annual defense authorization. Republicans have said they will not support the NDAA with the vaccine mandate in place.

Hoyer said at his weekly pen and pad with reporters that Democrats were not “willing” to give up the mandate, but that a compromise is required to get the NDAA across the finish line.

“We’re not willing to give it up. This is not a question of will; it’s a question of how can we get something done? We have a very close vote in the Senate, very close vote in the House. And you just don’t get everything you want,” he said.

Thune said of the defense policy bill, “I think the ransom the Democrats wanted for stripping the vaccine mandate is a whole bunch of things to include the permitting reform, but also some other things that are just going to be non-starters on our side, and I don’t think we’re going to get in the business of, you know, allowing them to hold us hostage.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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CNN’s Manu Raju, Morgan Rimmer and Jack Forrest contributed to this report.

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