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National News

A day ahead of shutdown, Congress works on advancing stopgap spending bills


Jennifer Shutt and Ariana Figueroa, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 29, 2024

WASHINGTON — Congress passed a short-term funding extension Thursday intended to give lawmakers a bit more time to wrap up work on the annual spending bills — dodging a shutdown despite election year politics and narrow margins.

The stopgap spending bill, sometimes called a continuing resolution, or CR, would keep funding mostly flat for programs funded in six of the full-year bills through March 8 and for programs in the other six bills through March 22. That means Congress will face another deadline just next week for action.

The House voted 320-99 to approve the stopgap bill a few hours before the Senate voted 77-13 to pass the measure.

The bill now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature, which he is expected to provide before the Friday midnight funding deadline for some federal departments.

Before approving the bill, senators voted to reject an amendment from Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul that would have barred the Federal Reserve from buying state government debt.

Senators also voted to reject a proposal from Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee that would have had the stopgap bill last through September, another from Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall that did the same thing while adding aid for Israel and a third from Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz that would have added House Republicans’ border security bill, often referred to by its bill number, H.R. 2.

House debate on the stopgap drew bipartisan backing from both Republicans and Democrats, though some especially conservative GOP lawmakers opposed the short-term extension.

“While at the time of passing our last continuing resolution I had hoped we would not need this measure, we owe it to the American people to do our due diligence in reaching the end of this process,” the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, said on the House floor. “I appreciate the respectful bipartisan cooperation that took place to put forward this continuing resolution and move us closer to the finish line.”

GOP Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, an appropriator, acknowledged that many of his Republican colleagues would be upset with another CR, but he noted the slim majority in the GOP and that the bill gives Congress more time to pass the remaining appropriations bills.

“We are where we are,” he said. “This negotiation has been difficult, but to close the government down at a time like this would hurt people who should not be hurt.”

Border security 

Republicans like Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Bob Good of Virginia expressed their frustration about border security, and said House Republicans have not leveraged the threat of shutting down the federal government to push for changes in immigration policy.

“We just keep spending money and we keep the policies that are in place,” Biggs said.

House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana said during a Thursday press conference that the bill texts for the first package of six spending bills will be released this weekend and members will be given at least 72 hours to read the bills before voting.

“This is a bipartisan agreement in the end, but it sticks to the numbers, the agreement on spending, it does not go above that,” Johnson said. “It will increase a bit, defense spending, but there will be real cuts to non-defense discretionary spending.”

Johnson added that after the remaining appropriations bills are done by the March 22 deadline, he wants to quickly move on to fiscal year 2025, as well as other issues, such as immigration.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Thursday morning the only way for Congress to accomplish anything during divided government is through bipartisanship.

“This agreement is proof that when the four leaders work together, when bipartisanship is prioritized, when getting things done for the American people takes a high priority, good things can happen, even in divided government,” Schumer said. “And I hope this sets the stage for Congress to finish the appropriations process in a bipartisan way very soon.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he appreciated the “commitment to see this process through and make good on this essential governing responsibility.”

“As I said earlier this week, government shutdowns never produce positive outcomes. That’s why Congress is going to avoid one this week,” McConnell said. “Leaders in both parties and both houses have agreed to a plan that would keep the lights on while appropriators complete their work and put annual appropriations bills on a glide path to becoming law.”

Congress has used a series of these stopgap funding measures to extend its deadlines for passing the dozen annual appropriations bills after failing to meet an Oct. 1 deadline.

Deep disagreements

House Republicans and Senate Democrats have had fundamental disagreements about spending levels and the policy that goes into the bills for months.

Those differences began after Biden submitted his budget request for fiscal year 2024 in March 2023, starting off the annual process.

The disputes appeared to abate a bit after Biden and then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached agreement on total spending levels in May 2023 at the same time they brokered a bipartisan agreement to address the nation’s debt limit.

House GOP appropriators moved away from that agreement after McCarthy experienced pressure from especially conservative members to significantly cut spending on domestic programs below the agreement.

The original batch of House spending bills also included dozens of very conservative GOP policy initiatives, drawing rebukes from Democrats and impeding the path toward a final bipartisan agreement.

A faction of far-right House Republicans ousting McCarthy of California in early October and then spending weeks disagreeing about who should lead them also delayed the process.

Johnson, after becoming speaker, renegotiated the spending levels for defense and domestic discretionary programs with Biden in January, starting off the process of merging the GOP bills from the House with the broadly bipartisan bills approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The spending deal sets spending on defense programs at $886.3 billion and provides $772.7 billion for non-defense discretionary spending.

Congressional leaders and the four lawmakers that lead the Appropriations committees in both chambers announced Wednesday they’d reached final agreement on six bills and had an agreement for another stopgap spending bill to bridge the gap.

Those bills, which will make up the first so-called “minibus,” include Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD.

March 22 deadline

The remaining six bills, the toughest to negotiate, haven’t yet garnered bipartisan, bicameral agreement, but the statement said they “will be finalized, voted on, and enacted prior to March 22.”

That spending package is supposed to include the Defense, Financial Services and General Government, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations government funding bills.

Should Congress approve all dozen of the bills before the March 22 final deadline, and Biden signs them, that would place lawmakers 174 days behind their deadline.

That would be the latest members have completed work on all the bills since fiscal 2017, when they wrapped up work 216 days into the fiscal year, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

Congress wrapped up work on all the bills during fiscal 2018 by March 23, but that was 173 days behind their deadline. The difference between this fiscal year and then is due to leap day.

The process of funding the government is expected to start anew on March 11 when Biden submits his budget request for fiscal 2025.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.