Congress Is Still Heading Toward a Shutdown Despite the Budget Deal, Democrats Say
House Republicans are voting on spending bills that would cut funding below the frozen levels lawmakers agreed to as part of the debt ceiling negotiations.
When President Biden earlier this month signed the bipartisan budget deal into law, it was intended to create a framework for annual spending bills that would take a government shutdown off the table.
Now, however, Republicans are pushing appropriations bills that come in at less than the levels to which Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed. Democrats are warning this is putting Congress on a collision course with a funding lapse.
The disagreement came to a head on Tuesday at a markup of an Agriculture Department fiscal 2024 funding measure, during which Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would revert spending to fiscal 2022 levels. That ignored the Fiscal Responsibility Act’s caps, which—on a government-wide level—aimed to essentially freeze spending at current amounts. Republicans said they would approve $115 billion in take-backs of not-yet-spent but previously approved funding—including nearly $8 billion from Agriculture—making total spending 1% less than would have occurred under a continuing resolution.
“The Fiscal Responsibility Act set a top-line spending cap—a ceiling, not a floor—for fiscal year 2024 bills,” said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who chairs the appropriations panel. “That is why I will use this opportunity to mark up appropriations bills that limit new spending to the fiscal year 2022 top-line level.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the committee, condemned that decision, saying it undermined a deal Republican leadership itself just negotiated.
“Despite the debt ceiling agreement providing an insufficient but workable top line, you are completely ignoring it,” DeLauro said. “Instead, almost every domestic bill will get a woefully smaller allocation.”
She added that Republicans were pushing dramatic spending cuts and reducing their influence on a final funding package. The Biden administration previously warned that the types of funding cuts House Republicans were seeking would result in tens of thousands of federal employees across government facing furloughs and, potentially, layoffs.
“No one who has an even basic understanding of how our process works thinks this house of cards will not get blown over the second we start a conference negotiation,” DeLauro said, anticipating a forthcoming negotiation with the Senate. “Not only are you wasting everyone's time and increasing the likelihood of a CR or shutdown, but you are using decisions that hurt your own constituents.”
At a separate markup on Tuesday, DeLauro said a shutdown was the more likely outcome.
"If we disregard the law of the land, we all but guarantee a shutdown in October," she said.
Lawmakers also included in the Fiscal Responsibility Act a provision that would automatically avoid a shutdown by funding agencies at 1% less than their fiscal 2023 allocations, but the provision would only kick in on Jan. 1. Current funding is set to expire Sept. 30, leaving open the possibility for a fall shutdown. The current appropriations process is facing further complications as funding levels for fiscal 2024 will only match current levels after certain side deals between the White House and Republicans are put into law. If conservative lawmakers push Republicans to back away from those deals, it could heighten the risk for a shutdown.
Granger defended her decision to pursue bills below the Fiscal Responsibility Act levels, which conservative lawmakers have demanded both before and after the debt deal. The Republican bills will use funding “we already have,” the chairwoman said on Wednesday, and redirect it to Republican priorities. Republicans on the committee noted the USDA bill would deny the Biden administration’s funding for 4,700 new employees at the department.
The Senate, which must work in a bipartisan fashion to move its appropriations measures, has yet to release any of its bills but is expected to begin doing so in the coming weeks. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said after the budget deal passed she was “focused now on keeping our appropriations process moving forward in the Senate.” She expressed disappointment in the new caps and said she would seek to “lessen the damage of these cuts at every opportunity.”
“I am deeply concerned about how this legislation will limit our ability now to make the investments we need to help families succeed, keep communities safe, and keep our country on the cutting edge,” Murray said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre implored Republicans not to renege on the promises they made during the debt limit and budget negotiations.
"We made a deal, and we will uphold our end of this deal," Jean-Pierre said. "And so they need to uphold theirs."