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Another stopgap spending bill in the works as Congress struggles to avert shutdown

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Jennifer Shutt, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
January 10, 2024

WASHINGTON — Congress on Wednesday appeared to be on track to pass a third deadline extension for at least some of the government funding bills that were supposed to become law more than three months ago — putting off a potential government shutdown.

The move, while not final, would give the Republican House, Democratic Senate and Biden administration a few more weeks to reach a bipartisan compromise on the dozen annual appropriations bills.

Meanwhile, a group of 13 House Republicans blocked that chamber from debating unrelated legislation Wednesday as a way of signaling their frustration with a bipartisan spending agreement forged by their leadership during the holiday break.

Montana Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale said shortly afterward during a press conference that group of GOP lawmakers will continue taking “whatever action we can with the tools that are available to us to let the administration know that they are not going to get additional funding for their priorities until we see a secure border.”

Rosendale and a few others called for shutting down the government in order to get the changes they want on immigration and border policy enacted.

While the group could potentially slow down approval of a short-term spending patch or eventually the full-year spending bills, they don’t appear to have the votes to block passage in either chamber.

On the question of a stopgap spending bill, often called a continuing resolution or CR, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday that it was obvious lawmakers would need that extension.

McConnell said the length of that would be up to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican.

“We need to prevent a government shutdown and so the obvious question is how long does the CR need to be, and that will be up to the majority leader and the speaker to determine the length of the CR,” McConnell said. “The simplest things take a week in the Senate, so I think frequently the House doesn’t understand how long it takes to get something through the Senate.”

Schumer and Johnson weren’t ready to say that Congress needs another continuing resolution on Wednesday, though neither ruled it out.

“The pedal is to the metal right now and I’m very hopeful and optimistic that we can meet the deadlines,” Johnson said during a press conference.

Two deadlines ahead

Schumer said Wednesday during a floor speech that he and Johnson agree there shouldn’t be a partial government shutdown. But on Tuesday at a press conference, he declined to say whether he thinks another continuing resolution would be needed.

“You know, the appropriators and their staffs are really good. We have real consensus among the four corners that they want to get something done,” Schumer said. “We are going to fight as hard as we can to get this done as soon as possible.”

Schumer said Wednesday afternoon that he would “make an assessment tomorrow as to what to do.”

Four of the full-year spending bills must pass before Jan. 19, otherwise the federal departments and agencies funded by the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD spending bills would begin a shutdown.

The departments and agencies in the other eight bills are funded under the last CR through Feb. 2. If Congress doesn’t pass another short-term bill or complete work on those full-year bills before that deadline, those departments would begin their shutdowns.

Democrats and Republicans hashed out an agreement for $886.3 billion in defense and $772.7 billion in domestic discretionary spending for the fiscal year that began back on Oct. 1 over the weekend. But Congress has several steps to go before those bills can become law.

The first is for the House and Senate to agree how to divvy up those so-called topline numbers to each of the 12 bills. They’ll then need to merge the House and Senate bills into final legislation that can pass both chambers.

‘A real challenge’

Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, said Tuesday there’s no timeline for reaching agreement on those individual funding levels, but said she hopes to get that done as soon as possible.

Murray didn’t rule out the idea of using another short-term stopgap spending bill to avoid a shutdown while Congress tries to complete work on the full-year bills.

“Right now we’re trying to get our allocations and begin work on our bills,” she said. “It’s going to be a real challenge.”

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Labor-HHS-Education funding panel, said that Murray and the House chairwoman are working out spending levels for the bills, but said she didn’t know when those would be finalized.

Capito said if lawmakers move quickly, they could avoid another continuing resolution covering the four spending bills that are due on Jan. 19.

“I think we can finish the ones by next Friday. And that’s my preferred route. That’s what we should be doing,” Capito said. “So I could support a short-term CR, but I’d prefer not to.”

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, the top Republican on the Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee, said he has been instructed to clear “the underbrush, so to speak,” referring to small disputes within the bills.

“We’re doing, what are the modest kinds of things that need to be resolved,” Moran explained. “So, trying to be in a position to be ready to move when we’re able to do so.”

Moran said the Senate could accomplish its work, but noted he’s concerned the House won’t be able to pass full-year spending bills.

“If across the line is the Senate, I think that’s accomplishable,” Moran said. “If across the line includes the House, I still have great concerns about their reaction and capability of advancing appropriation bills.”

Arkansas Republican Sen. John Boozman, ranking member on the Military Construction-VA spending panel, said while getting final-year bills enacted will be challenging, there is a path forward.

“The appropriators generally know each other fairly well, the staffs, so they’ve been informally talking for a long time about this,” he said. “They’re continuing and I think they’re getting a little bit more serious.”

But Boozman said lawmakers will need more time to reach agreement than they have under the current stopgap spending law, which covers some of the bills until Jan. 19 and some until Feb. 2.

“I think it’s going to be really difficult to get them done in that short of a time frame,” he said. “So I would say probably, March is a fair statement.”

‘Practical, workable solution’

Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack, chairman of the Financial Services spending panel, said Wednesday “a short-term CR seems to be about the only practical, workable solution, short of shutting this government down.”

Moving the deadline back to March through that continuing resolution would be a good option, he said.

Once Congress has more time to work out agreement on the full-year spending bills, House Republicans will face hurdles to compromising with the Senate on policy language. House GOP leaders will also have to sort out the differing opinions within the party on when and how the federal government should spend money, Womack said.

“There’s a lot of division within the conference,” he said. “It may be a brand new year, but it’s kind of the same old song and dance. So whatever we do, it’s obvious to me, we’re going to have to have some kind of a bipartisan solution because we’re just not going to be able to move it on our own.”

Florida Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, chairman of the State-Foreign Operations spending panel, said it’s “highly unlikely” that the four bills due by Jan. 19 can become law on time, though he added it’s “premature” to talk about the length or details of another continuing resolution.

Díaz-Balart rejected calls from some of his fellow Republicans like Rosendale to tie changes to immigration and border policy to the annual government funding bills.

He said those efforts should remain linked to the supplemental spending bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. That spending package is currently separate from the annual appropriations process.

“We’ve always talked about linking the supplemental to border security,” Díaz-Balart said. “And now all of a sudden, I think in an effort to just criticize the speaker, you’re trying to link something that none of us ever talked about linking to border security.”

Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, chairman of the Transportation-HUD subcommittee, said he “understands the frustration behind” calls to shut down the government, but said it’s a “stupid idea” that won’t lead to any victories for the GOP.

“If somebody can show me once where it worked — where somebody shut down the government and then produce the political result that they said they were going to achieve by shutting it down — then, I’ll rethink my position,” Cole said. “But in my experience, it just simply never works.”

Johnson faces potential revolt

Any agreement on the dozen full-year government funding bills could lead some House Republicans to revolt against Speaker Johnson, using the same procedural tool that allows any one lawmaker to call for a vote on the motion to vacate.

Some more conservative House GOP lawmakers have publicly rebuked Johnson for agreeing to the spending levels in the bipartisan deal announced over the weekend.

Johnson said Wednesday that he’s “not concerned” about being removed from the speaker’s office, though he, like former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, will have little control over that.

“Leadership is tough,” Johnson said. “You take a lot of criticism. But remember, I am a hardline conservative. That’s what they used to call me. I come from that camp.”

Johnson said he agreed with those GOP lawmakers frustrated with the spending deal that Congress needs to cut federal spending, though he also pointed out to them that Republicans have an especially thin majority in the House and don’t control the Senate or the White House.

“We have very difficult challenges, but we’re going to advance the ball,” Johnson said. “We’re going to advance our conservative principles, and we are going to demonstrate that we can govern well. And I’m going to keep trudging forward.”

On Wednesday, Rosendale, while unhappy with the bipartisan spending deal, rebuffed calls to oust Johnson.

“I would not say that with this group, our intention is to threaten Speaker Johnson with his job,” he said. “What we are saying is that we’re going to do everything within our power, with the tools that the House of Representatives has… to make sure that we do not continue funding aspects of government until we have a secure border.”

Tennessee Republican Rep. Tim Burchett said during that press conference that Congress holds “this country’s purse strings and we ought to get some guts in exercising them.”

Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Good, chairman of the far-right Freedom Caucus, said during that press conference that he and like-minded “colleagues are prepared to do what’s necessary to make a difference.”

“The American people elected us to cut our spending, to restore fiscal stability to this Congress, to save the country and to secure the border,” Good said. “And we’re willing to do whatever it takes.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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