Path to averting a shutdown remains elusive as Senate looks to pass first FY24 spending bills
The upper chamber has bipartisan support for many of its funding measures and will look to put pressure on the divided House.
The Senate is poised this week to take its first step toward approving bipartisan fiscal 2024 spending legislation on the floor of its chamber, looking to advance a three-bill package with overwhelming support as lawmakers rush to produce a solution that will avoid a shutdown at the end of the month.
The “minibus” appropriations measure would fund the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, all within the budget caps established by Fiscal Responsibility Act that President Biden negotiated with House Republicans in exchange for raising the debt ceiling earlier this year. Leaders in the Senate suggested a strong bipartisan vote would demonstrate theirs was the path to follow to ensure normal funding for agencies when current spending expires after Sept. 30.
The Senate will take a preliminary vote Tuesday before moving the package through to final passage and sending it back to the House, where Republicans have rejected the spending levels they previously agreed as part of the debt limit deal. It also includes just three of the dozen annual spending bills Congress must approve each year, though the Senate Appropriations Committee has already passed all 12 of those measures with overwhelming bipartisan support. The three bills included in the package the Senate moved forward on Monday—which were among those the committee passed unanimously—would slightly increase spending at the covered agencies.
“This is a critical next step as we continue working collaboratively in the Senate to keep our government funded, find common ground, and deliver for the people back home that we represent,” Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the chair and vice chair of the spending panel, respectively, said ahead of Monday’s vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on Monday that reaching bipartisan agreement on those bills was difficult work that required "plenty of compromise" and "lots of negotiations."
“The Senate has shown that bipartisan compromise is entirely possible even in these divided times,” Schumer said.
The House has so far passed just its VA spending bill, but has teed up votes on four others: measures to fund the departments of Agriculture, Defense, State and Homeland Security are all pending before the House Rules Committee before coming to the floor. Those votes could take place as soon as this week, though some Republican lawmakers have threatened to withhold their support and Democrats are expected to universally oppose them. The non-defense bills would cut spending far below the caps set by the deal House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., struck with Biden.
McCarthy has publicly implored his caucus to approve the bills—which the House Appropriations Committee approved along party lines—suggesting it would give his chamber more leverage in negotiations with the Senate over final funding measures. He has also supported a short-term continuing resolution, calling it necessary to avoid a shutdown and to give Republicans more time to approve their appropriations bills. To win over skeptical conservative lawmakers, some of whom have already suggested a shutdown is inevitable, McCarthy said a funding lapse would disrupt House investigations into Biden and his family.
Schumer said last month he and McCarthy previously agreed to pursue a short-term spending bill in September. Members of the House Freedom Caucus have put forward a series of requests on conservative policy issues, saying they would vote against any CR that does not meet them. Those demands, which include restrictions on the departments of Justice and Defense, would be non-starters in the Democratically controlled Senate. Some of those lawmakers, however, have threatened to put forward a motion to strip McCarthy of his speakership if he does not comply with their demands.
Congressional leaders have only a few weeks to broker a deal to keep agencies from shuttering their doors.
“As we process these appropriations bills through the floor, Congress must also avoid a pointless government shutdown later this month,” Schumer said on Monday. “I cannot stress enough that bumbling into a shutdown right now would not only be entirely unnecessary, it would cause immense harm to the American people.”
He implored Republican leadership not to kowtow to the "extreme demands" of right-wing conservatives.
“You certainly don't need to go down that road,” the majority leader said. “The Senate has shown that bipartisan compromise is entirely possible even in these divided times.”
Funding agencies at the levels under the Fiscal Responsibility Act would usher in a renewed era of belt-tightening across government. The House Republicans bills would force drastic, across-the-board cuts.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said in a memorandum on Tuesday that McCarthy has broken his promise and is instead pushing to "gut key investments in the American people."
"A deal is a deal," Young said. "The president and the Speaker already made a bipartisan budget agreement—one that would result in $1 trillion of deficit reduction over the next decade. Every party to that agreement except House Republicans—House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, and President Biden—are honoring their word."
An OMB official noted the White House is pushing allies to call out House Republicans for violating the budget framework to which they previously agreed and to highly the impact of the spending cuts those lawmakers have proposed.
Complicating the matter is Biden’s push to include $44 billion in emergency funding in any stopgap bill, which the White House has said is necessary to tide over Ukraine aid efforts, the disaster relief fund and border security and migrant processing accounts. Some conservative lawmakers have objected to bypassing the caps agreed to as part of the debt ceiling deal, though such supplementals are routine.
If Congress has not passed line-by-line appropriations for each agency by Jan. 1, an automatic, across-the-board 1% cut from current levels will take effect.