HomeBusinessHouse passes bill to avert partial shutdown, sends to Senate before deadline

House passes bill to avert partial shutdown, sends to Senate before deadline

The House on Wednesday approved $459 billion in new government spending, a crucial step toward funding federal agencies for the next six months and preventing a partial shutdown this weekend.

The legislation passed by a 339 to 85 vote and now heads to the Senate, which must pass it by midnight Saturday to keep crucial agencies from shuttering when funding lapses. The bill, which was drafted by bipartisan leaders in both chambers, is not expected to face substantial opposition.

But another larger and trickier shutdown deadline lurks just over two weeks from now on March 22, and lawmakers remain fiercely divided over how to fund those agencies and which policies to attach to that legislation.

Still, Congress is now on a realistic path to finally conclude the 2024 fiscal year appropriations process after extending the deadline four times over disagreements within a fractious House Republican conference that led to the historic ousting of then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

“Passing these bills will give us much-needed momentum to finish the next package of spending bills by the March 22 deadline,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the chamber’s floor Wednesday. “But as I’ve said repeatedly, it will take bipartisan cooperation to finish the job.”

Far-right Republicans in the House had sought to use the appropriations process to significantly curtail spending by prohibiting funding for Planned Parenthood, slash resources for the Education Department, enact rigid new immigration restrictions and claw back some of the money for the White House’s climate agenda.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has recently been more direct in defending the pathway he’s charted to ensure the government does not shut down, as a majority of Republicans recognize they would get blamed for it — a hefty political price during an election year where the GOP is fighting to keep and expand their two-vote majority.

Over the past week, Johnson has encouraged his conference to accept that the “singles and doubles” they have scored in the first tranche of funding bills could have turned into grand slams had Republicans not allowed ideological difference on how to fund the government to limit his hands in negotiations with other congressional leaders, all whom agreed on funding levels set by McCarthy and President Biden last year.

“We want to cut spending. We want to limit the size and scope of the federal government. The reality right now is that we have divided government … so we have to be realistic about what we’re able to achieve,” Johnson said Wednesday.

Biden is set to confront the relative progress and brewing impasse during his State of the Union address Thursday while also attempting to lay out his most direct pitch yet to voters for a second term.

But some of his priorities and Congress’s spending debates have become entangled with U.S. support for Ukraine and Israel and immigration debates at the U.S.-Mexico border. Biden and Democrats are eager to send more arms and resources to Ukraine as Russian invaders attempt to push deeper into the country’s territory. The president has also sought to send funds to Israel for its fight against Hamas terrorists but has run into opposition from fellow Democrats concerned about rising civilian death tolls in the Gaza Strip.

Johnson and Republicans say they want to pass border and immigration legislation before sending aid to U.S. allies, and some of those policy pushes, lawmakers say, have clouded the government funding picture. Members of the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus have repeatedly argued that Congress should not fund agencies that they believe have contributed to the influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, ease access to abortions or support LGBTQ and diversity, equity and inclusion measures.

“Republicans will go around and talk about how they scored major wins, how they somehow delivered for the American people. The fact of the matter is we did no such thing,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) said on the House floor. “If any member from the body can come down and explain to the American people in terms they can understand, explain it — what exactly the cuts look like.”

Wednesday’s bill funds roughly 30 percent of the federal government — including the departments of Justice, Transportation, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and crucial government research functions — for the rest of the 2024 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

It was the product of two bipartisan compromises in Washington, agreements that have faced substantial scrutiny and threats from far-right legislators.

Last spring, Biden and McCarthy agreed to suspend the nation’s debt ceiling in exchange for restraining federal spending to $1.59 trillion in 2024. House Republicans chafed at the deal, and disagreements over spending ultimately led a band of rebels to oust McCarthy from the speakership even after he directed the House Appropriations Committee to incorporate their demands to cut slash spending by an extra $1 billion.

In a move that riled up House conservatives, McCarthy had also struck an extra $1.2 billion side deal with Biden that top Democratic leaders, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and appropriation chairs from both chambers respected.

Johnson, his replacement, stuck to that deal and then in January made another agreement with Schumer on a top-line discretionary spending amount for the year: $1.7 trillion. Wednesday’s bill covers a portion of that amount. Expensive programs like Social Security and Medicare aren’t included in that total because they are not subject to annual approval by Congress.

Some Republicans were unhappy with that $1.7 trillion total and hoped to attach policy provisions to the legislation as a consolation for not cutting spending more. Those “riders” — so called because the policies “ride along” on often-unrelated legislation — included limits on which items some food stamp recipients could purchase, a crackdown on the availability of abortion medication and a ban on regulations on menthol-flavored cigarettes.

Most of those provisions did not make it into the final legislation, angering conservatives. Littering appropriations bills with culture-war poison pills — as House Republicans had done in versions of spending legislation last year — would have doomed its chances of passage. Vulnerable House Republicans would have shied away from some controversial measures and Democrats in the House and Senate would have opposed it.

The lack of cohesion among Republicans to pass measures through their two-vote majority has forced Johnson, and McCarthy before him, to suspend the rules of the House to dodge procedural holds thrown up by the Freedom Caucus and rely on Democrats to ensure bills pass with two-third support of the House.

“This is a long, methodical process. It is overdue,” Johnson said. “But we are very happy now that we’re finally to the point where we can move beyond it.”

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