Congress averts shutdown, punts funding debate into March
Both the Senate and House approved a six-week stopgap on Thursday, just one day before a shutdown deadline.
Updated Jan. 18 at 5:02 pm ET: Both houses of Congress on Thursday approved a two-tiered stopgap funding bill that kicked the shutdown deadlines into March, sending the measure to President Biden's desk just one day before the shuttering of some agencies.
The House acted quickly Thursday afternoon in a 314-108 vote after the Senate approved the bill earlier in the day. Lawmakers had until the end of the day Friday to avoid a shutdown for the first tranche of agencies that would have seen their funding expire. The measure moved without much drama despite some conservatives making an 11th hour push for tactics to delay the process past that timeframe.
The third continuing resolution of fiscal 2024 will again divide the expiration of funding into two buckets of agencies and follows an agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on the overall spending levels for the fiscal year. Both leaders, however, acknowledged this week they would not be able to write bills to detail that spending before the first deadline set to hit Friday and agreed to pursue another stopgap measure.
The departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Veterans Affairs and Agriculture will, under the new CR, face a March 1 deadline. The remaining agencies, which are currently set to shutter Feb. 2, will be funded through March 8.
Earlier this week, the CR won 68 votes in a procedural step that allowed its consideration to move forward. Schumer followed that vote with a plea to his colleagues to work in a bipartisan fashion to quickly move the stopgap measure, a request to which they acceded.
“There’s every reason in the world to make this an easy, uncomplicated, and drama-free process,” Schumer said. “I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do just that: work in good faith. We’re willing to cooperate, as always, with the other side to keep this process moving, but Republican members need to be realistic and practical about how much time we have left before the shutdown deadline.”
The Senate took two failed amendment votes before approving the legislation.
Conservatives in the House implored Johnson to take an alternative path, suggesting a shutdown could provide additional leverage for deeper cuts or border crackdowns. Instead, Johnson vowed to stick to the budget framework he negotiated with Schumer and pass a short-term bill that would allow appropriators more time to write the 12 annual funding measures that set spending levels at every federal office across government. Johnson did say, however, he would push for “meaningful policy wins” in those spending bills that could disrupt efforts to pass those bills before March in, as Schumer said, a “drama-free process.”
The first step in the process will involve Sen Patty Murray, D-Wash., meeting with her counterpart in the House, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, to determine the amount of money they will allocate to each of the 12 annual funding bills. Only once those levels are set can appropriators finalize the spending measures, including which policy changes, if any, are included. Murray and Granger last week began those discussions, which are still ongoing.
The bills will draw from the $1.66 trillion Schumer and Johnson agreed to as the top-line spending level. Defense spending will jump 3% to $886 billion and non-defense spending will stay essentially flat relative to fiscal 2023 at nearly $773 billion. If Congress can pass appropriations bills by the March deadlines, the fiscal year will be nearly halfway over and agencies will face an expedited timeline to get the money out the door.
Murray said on Wednesday she was working “around the clock” with her colleagues to move the process along and craft bipartisan, bicameral bills. She added she hoped the newest CR would be the last of the fiscal year, but appropriators still had their work cut out for them.
“We still have an awful lot of work to get done in a short amount of time to finalize serious appropriations bills—free of partisan poison pills—that protect key investments in our country’s future,” Murray said.
A failure to pass full-year appropriations that would require another stopgap bill in March would be accompanied by major risks. Under a provision of the 2023 debt ceiling law, a CR that goes into May would force devastating, across-the-board cuts that would likely require employee furloughs and significant disruptions to agency operations.
NEXT STORY: Senate panel advances watchdog, labor nominees