Senators report ‘a lot of progress’ in avoiding government shutdown

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 WASHINGTON (CNN) — Bipartisan Senate leaders reported Monday that negotiators had made “a lot of progress” in narrowing differences over year-end bills to fund the government and extend dozens of expiring tax breaks.

But they said there are no deals yet and all signs point to Congress needing another short term bill to avoid a shutdown on Wednesday.

“Members and staff in both parties are continuing their work on appropriations and on the tax relief measure. As we all know, they made a lot of progress in recent days,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor. “We will continue to consult and engage with colleagues as we make further progress on these last two significant items we must complete this year.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid used similar language when he spoke just after McConnell.

“Many of us in the Senate and the House and our staffs worked through the weekend and have made a lot of progress. We’re not there yet. Keeping the federal government open and funded is a congressional responsibility. I’m confident we will fulfill that most basic constitutional duty. It’s just a question of when we do it. I hope it’s sooner rather than later,” Reid said.

Aides in both parties from both sides of the Hill said they expected a deal could be reached late Monday or sometime Tuesday but said there were still issues being resolved, particularly what to do with dozens of controversial policy riders members from each party want attached to the bill. They range from blocking EPA regulations and lifting the ban on exporting domestic crude oil to requiring federal studies of gun violence and extending a special health insurance program for 9/11 first responders.

When the talks blew through the initial deadline on December 11 to keep federal agencies open, the President signed a five day bill extending current funding levels through Wednesday night. But even as both sides claim significant progress many admit they will still need more time to have both chambers vote on a funding bill, especially when House Speaker Paul Ryan promised members would have three days to review legislation before a floor vote.

Ryan and other House GOP leaders have set up a conference call with rank-and-file Republicans to discuss the negotiations Monday evening, according to a senior GOP leadership source. With House members not back in Washington until late on Tuesday this call is likely to be a check in with members, and not a detailed briefing on any final deal.

Senator Barbara Mikulski, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations panel, told reporters talks over the weekend were “workmanlike” and included seven meetings. She said “we’re almost 95% there” on issues related to specific funding levels for agencies, but leaders were still negotiating over policy riders on environmental issues.

“Nothing is done until everything is done,” the Maryland Democrat said, a familiar phrase in delicate congressional negotiations, and she added that the talks on the tax bill were also a factor in wrapping up a final deal on the omnibus measure.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, said there was a push to add a cybersecurity bill to the spending bill package. But he cautioned that there were a few some outstanding issues between House and Senate versions to iron out and with the holidays approaching fast he wasn’t sure that could be done in time to attach it.

While many House conservatives are insisting the spending bill include national security measures like the Syrian refugee bill and one overhauling the visa waiver program, Burr downplayed the need for quick action on those items, saying, “My bigger concerns are people who are already in the country, not people who are thinking about coming.”

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