House GOP floats telework restrictions, drastic spending cuts as Congress weighs options to avert shutdown
House and Senate have diverging plans to temporarily keep agencies afloat as Republicans propose budget rescissions and civilian job reductions.
House Republicans on Thursday hit another snag toward passing fiscal 2024 funding bills, pulling a measure that would have funded the Internal Revenue Service, Office of Personnel Management and other agencies after determining they lacked the requisite votes.
That marked the second time in a week that Republicans had to pull a funding measure off the floor over insufficient support, doing the same for a measure providing appropriations to the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. And in the more immediate term, lawmakers are barreling toward a shutdown if they cannot pass a stopgap measure by Nov 17.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., over the weekend unveiled his short-term plan for averting a funding lapse, proposing the division of government funding into two buckets. The first bucket would fund the departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Veterans Affairs and Agriculture and would run through Jan. 19. The second measure would fund the rest of government through Feb. 2. It does not include any spending cuts or policy provisions related to the border, as Johnson had also floated, but still takes an approach that Democratic leadership and some Republicans have derided.
"This two-step continuing resolution is a necessary bill to place House Republicans in the best position to fight for conservative victories," Johnson said. "The bill will stop the absurd holiday-season omnibus tradition of massive, loaded up spending bills introduced right before the Christmas recess."
The House has passed seven of the 12 annual appropriations bills that Congress must approve each year. It is considering bills at far lower funding levels than those agreed to in the debt limit deal it struck with President Biden earlier this year and is passing them along party-line votes. The Senate has passed three of the fiscal 2024 bills, lumped into one package, but did so with broad, bipartisan support and in alignment with the Fiscal Responsibility Act's spending caps.
Leaders in both chambers have sought to prioritize passing individual spending bills or "minibus" packages of them to avoid lumping all 12 annual appropriations bills into one omnibus, as it has done for most years in recent memory. A stopgap CR would buy more time to pass their bills and go to a conference to negotiate final packages, though the delays and hurdles to approving bills even along partisan lines has complicated progress.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday took the first legislative step to put forward a vehicle the chamber can use to pass its own CR.
“Over the next few days Democrats will continue talking to Republicans about finding a path forward on avoiding a shutdown that both sides support, and I earnestly hope we can reach agreement sooner rather than later,” Schumer said, emphasizing the path forward must be bipartisan. “Hard-right proposals, hard-right slashing cuts, hard-right poison pills that have zero support from Democrats will only make a shutdown more likely. I hope they don’t go down that path in the week to come.”
Johnson has said he favors a CR into January to avoid a holiday crunch, though Senate Democrats have discussed an earlier deadline. Once they eventually pivot to bicameral negotiations over full-year appropriations, Republicans will look to use their passed bills as a starting point. While the Senate versions keep agencies largely flat-funded, the House iterations contain significant cuts and policy changes. Here is a look at some of those proposals:
- Clawing back previous funding: Most of the House backed bills have included recissions from the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ signature climate, health care and tax law, as well as some cuts from the bipartisan infrastructure law. The various measures would claw back $9 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency, $6 billion from the Energy Department and $300 million from the Homeland Security Department. Under the currently scrapped Financial Services and General Government bill, Republicans had sought to rescind funding for clean federal buildings and $29 billion from the IRS. Lawmakers said the measure would ensure IRS hiring—leading to a “supercharged army of IRS agents”—would not take place.
- Banning diversity efforts: Most of the Republicans’ bills would prohibit any funds going toward President Biden’s executive order on diversity, equity and inclusion in the federal workforce. The order is pushing agencies to improve recruitment, retention and professional development of underserved communities, including providing more comprehensive health coverage to LGBTQ+ federal workers, boosting protections for feds with disabilities and pushing agencies to transition from unpaid to paid internship.
- Pentagon civilian cuts: The House-backed bill to fund the Defense Department would boost funding overall by 3.5%, but cut $1 billion from Biden’s request for the civilian workforce. The measure would require a review of how Defense can shift functions away from civilians in favor of technological solutions, while also mandating a reassessment of the roles and individuals required for core missions, tasks and functions.
- Severe reductions at State: Republicans boasted their State Department funding measure would zero out nine accounts and terminate 18 programs. It would bring 31 accounts to fiscal 2019 levels as part of an overall 14% cut compared to fiscal 2023.
- EPA slashed: In addition to the IRA rescission, EPA would see a whopping 39% cut in the House-backed bill that funds the agency. The Interior Department would fare better with a cut of just 5%, though the Bureau of Land Management’s funding would be reduced by 18% and the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service would see cuts of 13%. The Forest Service would see an overall increase of 13% to support wildfire management efforts.
- Reducing telework: If Republicans are able to pass their FSGG bill, it would require federal employees to work in the office at least as much as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. “Instead of ‘leading by example’ in the construction of sustainable buildings, [the General Services Administration] should lead by example by bringing their employees back to the office, like the private sector,” Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., the bill’s author, said on the House floor on Wednesday. “We must hold the federal workforce accountable for the quality of their work and the service they provide to the American people.”
- Increases, mostly, at DHS: The Homeland Security Department would see an overall 3% funding increase. That would fund 22,000 Border Patrol agents, providing nearly $500 million to up the staff from its current level of just more than 19,000. Biden has similarly sought a significant hiring surge for Border Patrol. Republicans also included $2 billion for wall construction along the U.S.-Mexico border. Most components would receive funding above the president’s request, though not all of DHS would fare as well: the measure would zero out funding for electric vehicles at the department and give U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services just $122 million. That represents a 55% cut compared to its current funding level and is dramatically shy of Biden’s request for nearly $750 million.
- USPS crime and turnover: Also part of the “general government” bill that Republicans have struggled to pass was a provision requiring the U.S. Postal Service to report on its actions to protect employees from robberies and assaults in recent years and what it will do going forward. They also requested a report on employee turnover and how the agency is addressing it. Postal management has put forward plans to confront both challenges.
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