House and Senate lawmakers have begun negotiations on a final $675 billion defense spending bill, among other federal appropriations measures, that must pass before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
The FY-19 defense appropriations bill is attached to a "minibus," which includes funding for the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor and other government agencies.
Staffers said they expect bipartisan and bicameral consensus on the defense portion of the "minibus," but noted that differences over non-defense funding could prove challenging for a conference committee.
The House and Senate announced conference committee members for the defense minibus Thursday.
Senate members include Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Roy Blunt (R-MO); Lindsey Graham (R-SC); Jerry Moran (R-KS); Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee; Patty Murray (D-WA); and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
House members include Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; Robert Aderholt (R-AL); Mike Simpson (R-ID); Ken Calvert (R-CA); Tom Cole (R-OK); Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL); Tom Graves (R-GA); David Young (R-IA); John Rutherford (R-FL); Nita Lowey (D-NY), ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee; Pete Visclosky (D-IN); Rosa DeLauro (D-CT); Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA); and Betty McCollum (D-MN).
Meanwhile, the House and Senate have also begun conference committee meetings on two other non-defense minibuses.
"It's too early in the process to expect a conference report on the defense minibus," one appropriations staffer said, but noted conference reports on the other minibus measures could be seen "in the next few days."
If Congress can pass a final defense appropriations package before the beginning of FY-19, it will be the first time in recent memory. If lawmakers cannot meet the deadline, they must either pass a stopgap continuing resolution or face a government shutdown.
The Pentagon has begun each of the past nine fiscal years on a CR that locks spending at previous-year levels and prohibits the start of new programs or production increases for weapon systems.
President Trump, who has said he would shut down the federal government if Congress does not pass a bill funding a new wall on the southern border with Mexico, softened his rhetoric somewhat at a Thursday rally in Montana, saying he did not want to cause negative political consequences for the GOP ahead of November's midterm elections.
"Most likely, I will not do that," he said. "If it was up to me, I'd shut down government over border security. And I guess when you get right down to it, it is up to me, but I don't want to do anything to hurt us or potentially hurt us."