April 22nd, 2024

House approves $1.2 trillion package of spending bills before shutdown deadline, Senate up next

By Kevin Freking, The Associated Press on March 22, 2024.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. The race is on for Congress to pass the final spending package for the current budget year and push any threats of a government shutdown to the fall. With spending set to expire for several key federal agencies at midnight Friday, the House and Senate are expected to take up a $1.2 trillion measure that combines six annual spending bills into one package.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) – The House approved a $1.2 trillion package of spending bills on Friday just a few hours before funding for some key federal agencies is set to expire, a long overdue action nearly six months into the budget year that will push any threats of a government shutdown to the fall.

The bill passed by a vote of 286-134 and now moves to the Senate, where leadership hopes for a final vote later Friday. More than 70% of the money would go to defense.

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., brought the bill up under a streamlined process that required two-thirds support for approval. The bill narrowly met that threshold with more Republicans voting against it than voting for it, which could spell difficulties for Johnson in the weeks ahead.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., initiated an effort to oust Johnson as the House began the vote but held off on further action until the House returns in two weeks. A similar political dynamic led to the removal of the last Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, of California.

The vote breakdown showed 101 Republicans voting for the bill and 112 voting against it. Meanwhile, 185 Democrats voted for the bill and 22 against.

Lawmakers could still miss the midnight deadline for funding the government as action in the Senate could take time. But the practical impact in the near term would be minimal. With most federal workers off duty over the weekend and many government services funded through earlier legislation, a shutdown would mostly pass without incident unless matters dragged into Monday.

Johnson broke up this fiscal year’s spending bills into two parts as House Republicans revolted against what has become an annual practice of asking them to vote for one massive, complex bill with little time to review it or face a shutdown. Johnson viewed that as a breakthrough. Still, the bill was clearly unpopular with most Republicans, who viewed it as containing too few of their policy priorities and as spending too much.

“The bottom line is that this is a complete and utter surrender,” said Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Mo., who called himself “a hell no on this bill.”

The opponents particularly took issue with fellow Republicans voting for the bill and the actions of House GOP leadership. Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., went so far as to say “it’s clear that the Democrats own the speaker’s gavel.”

“We told the people we were going to have a smaller government, and we told the people we were going to secure the border,” said Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio. “It’s a sad day.”

It’s taken lawmakers six months into the current fiscal year to get near the finish line, the process slowed by conservatives who pushed for more policy mandates and steeper spending cuts than a Democratic-led Senate or White House would consider. The impasse required several short-term, stopgap spending bills to keep agencies funded as negotiations continued.

Democratic leaders sold the bill to members by emphasizing the hundreds of policy mandates they were able to keep out of the bill and the staving off of deep spending cuts.

“This is a good result for the American people in terms of standing up for their health, their safety, their education, their national security protection and of course, above all else, their economic well-being,” Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said.

The first package of full-year spending bills, which funded the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and the Interior, among others, cleared Congress two weeks ago with just hours to spare before funding expired for those agencies. Now, lawmakers are considering the second package under a similar scenario.

The 1,012-page bill also funds the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Labor and others.

Nondefense spending will be relatively flat compared with the prior year, though some, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, are taking a hit, and many agencies will not see their budgets keep up with inflation.

When combining the two packages, discretionary spending for the budget year will come to about $1.66 trillion. That does not include programs such as Social Security and Medicare, or financing the country’s rising debt.

House Republicans were able to secure a provision that prohibits funding through March 2025 for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which is the main supplier of food, water and shelter to civilians in Gaza.

Republicans are insisting on cutting off funding to the agency after Israel alleged that a dozen employees of the agency were involved in the attack Hamas conducted in Israel on Oct. 7.

But the prohibition does concern some lawmakers because many relief agencies say there is no way to replace its ability to deliver the humanitarian assistance that the United States and others are trying to send to Gaza, where one-quarter of the 2.3 million residents are starving.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the lead Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the provision has caused some problems with Democratic members, but she also pointed out that Democrats were able to secure more humanitarian assistance overall. It will increase by about $336 million from the prior year’s levels.

To win over support from Republicans, Johnson has also touted some of the spending increases secured for about 8,000 more detention beds for migrants awaiting their immigration proceedings or removal from the country. That’s about a 24% increase from current levels. Also, GOP leadership highlighted more money to hire about 2,000 Border Patrol agents.

Democrats, meanwhile, are boasting of a $1 billion increase for Head Start programs and new child care centers for military families. They also played up a $120 million increase in funding for cancer research and a $100 million increase for Alzheimer’s research.

“We defeated outlandish cuts that would have been a gut punch for American families and our economy,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The spending in the bill largely tracks with an agreement that then-Speaker McCarthy worked out with the White House in May 2023, which restricted spending for two years and suspended the debt ceiling into January 2025 so the federal government could continue paying its bills.

Shalanda Young, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers Thursday that last year’s agreement, which became the Fiscal Responsibility Act, will save the federal government about $1 trillion over the coming decade.

Members of both parties expressed frustration with how long the process has taken and that the end result was what so many had predicted. They warned all along that Republicans would not get the vast majority of policy mandates they were seeking or cut spending further than what McCarthy and the White House had agreed upon last year.

“People were living in a dream world thinking, ‘Well, we’re going to something different than what McCarthy had an agreement with the president on,'” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.

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Associated Press congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro and staff writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

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