The release of a $1.7 trillion year-end spending bill hit a snag Monday night as Democrats wrestled over a largely unrelated last-minute issue: where to put the FBI’s new headquarters.
The disagreement comes down to language that could influence whether the FBI makes its new home in Virginia or Maryland, according to more than a half-dozen lawmakers and aides. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, among other Marylanders, are pushing for the language that will favor their home state, while Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is leading his delegation in advocating for keeping current guidelines that favor his state.
Discussions over the weekend got particularly heated as appropriators and staff raced to put the finishing touches on the government funding package, according to multiple Democrats who spoke candidly on condition of anonymity.
It’s about “whether the FBI is going to be in Virginia or Maryland,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Another senior senator confirmed that the holdup of the sprawling bill is “all about where the FBI building is,” adding: “That’s the only thing left. It’s not about money. It’s about location.”
The obstacle arose as lawmakers race to pass the package by week’s end, with federal cash expiring at midnight on Friday. Timing this week for House and Senate passage is critical, so any delay in releasing the bill text could have an unwanted domino effect.
The spending pact would provide the military with $858 billion this fiscal year, a nearly 10 percent increase over current levels. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) contended that Democrats would largely end up settling for a nondefense funding cut, after accounting for inflation, once the bill was released.
The Senate is expected to act first on the bill once it’s finally released, seeking a time agreement that would allow it to pass before Thursday night and then sending it to the House. Any senator could hold up that deal, however, in exchange for amendments or concessions.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said he expected conservatives to push for an amendment to the spending bill related to earmarks, set-asides for projects in lawmakers’ home states.
“I don’t anticipate that it would be real thorny getting to a final vote, but it might take a little time,” Thune said, adding that with the holidays looming “the thing that somebody has to trade is time.”
The delay in releasing the spending bill’s text, which was originally expected Monday afternoon, comes after key lawmakers worked through the weekend to finalize the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) quipped that members of the Appropriations Committees haven’t slept, working through Hanukkah and the World Cup finale.
“We must wrap the whole process up and vote on final passage before the end of the week,” Schumer said. “It won’t be easy, but we are working hard so we can get it done.”
McConnell has insisted that the upper chamber pass the measure by Thursday, or that he will pivot and demand a stopgap bill to fund the government into next year.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he’s “disappointed” about how the split between defense and nondefense funding is shaping up, noting that McConnell “is in a bargaining position that he’s taking advantage of.”
Also likely not included in the bill is billions of dollars in pandemic aid requested by Biden, an extension of the enhanced Child Tax Credit pushed for by Democrats, cannabis banking legislation and a popular tax provision that would have allowed businesses to immediately write off their research expenses, rather than over a period of five years.
“We’re going to do our best in the closing days and hours of negotiating to make sure the domestic agenda is also improved, but he obviously does not want to do that,” Durbin said of McConnell.
When asked about Durbin’s comment, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate’s top appropriator, fired back at his colleague’s frustration with a bill Leahy helped write: “Then he should vote against it.”