The U.S. Capitol. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — Congress will have until early March to finish work it was supposed to complete last fall — and will avert a partial government shutdown — under a bill both chambers approved with broad bipartisan support Thursday.
The 77-18 vote in the Senate and 314-108 vote in the House sent the bill to President Joe Biden, and he is expected to sign it before a Friday midnight deadline.
The short-term government funding bill will keep federal departments and agencies running under the spending levels and policies last approved during unified Democratic control of Washington.
The stopgap measure, often called a continuing resolution, or CR, is meant to give the Republican House and Democratic Senate more time to broker agreement on the dozen full-year appropriations bills that were supposed to become law by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, said she hoped this would be the last continuing resolution Congress uses during the current fiscal year.
“Passing this measure will allow us the time we need to hammer out those funding bills for fiscal year ‘24 after many months of needless delays,” Murray said.
“I think we all want this to be a drama-free and reliable process, so I hope House Republicans will work with us to make that possible now too, which means leaving extreme partisan demands at the door,” she added.
House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger appeared to reject that sentiment during debate on the continuing resolution in that chamber.
The Texas Republican noted that “finding common ground will not be easy” since the GOP plans to press to include their conservative policy riders in the dozen full-year spending bills.
“I want to be clear, as we begin to conference these bills, House Republicans are committed to fighting for meaningful policy changes,” Granger said.
Agreed-upon spending levels
Appropriators in the House and Senate will negotiate those dozen bills under spending levels agreed to earlier this month when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, reached agreement to spend $886.3 billion on defense and $772.7 billion for domestic accounts.
But the chairs and ranking members in the House and Senate tasked with working out bicameral agreement on the dozen full-year government funding bills need more time to agree how much should be spent on each.
They’ll also need to decide what to do about spending policy amid the thorny disagreements.
So Congress drafted its third CR of the fiscal year with a new deadline of March 1 to approve the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD spending bills.
The other eight bills will need to become law by March 8 under the CR.
Rand Paul, Roger Marshall amendments rejected
Two Republican senators attempted to change the continuing resolution before it went to the House, though they were unsuccessful.
The Senate voted 44-50 to reject an amendment from Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul that would have barred “any direct United States assistance, loan guarantee, or debt relief to the Palestinian Authority or any other Palestinian governing entity in the West Bank and Gaza.”
The provision included several carve outs that would allow aid to continue if the Palestinian Authority or another Palestinian governing body in the West Bank or Gaza were to take seven steps, including if it “formally recognized the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state” and removed “all individuals with terrorist ties from security services.”
“All American aid should be conditioned on recipients’ practice of protecting basic human rights,” Paul said.
Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin spoke against the amendment, saying Paul’s proposal would have compromised the United States’ ability to “work to make sure there’s a future for the Palestinian people living in peace with Israel.”
“Our ally Israel is at war to destroy Hamas terrorists, not in a war against the Palestinian people” Cardin said.
Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall was unsuccessful in getting his colleagues to go along with a so-called motion to commit, which would have sent the bill to the Appropriations Committee and required that panel to rewrite it to last through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. That vote was 13-82.
“A full-year CR through September 30, would result in a spending cut of $73 billion, bringing our total discretionary spending down to $1.56 trillion; a significant cut from the $1.66 trillion funding deal that’s in the works currently,” Marshall said. “This is the fiscally responsible decision that the American people deserve and Congress has an obligation to make.”
Murray and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, both rejected the idea, saying it would undo all the work their committee has done on the annual government spending bills.
“Adopting this motion would wipe out the work of the Appropriations Committee that led to 12 standalone bills being reported last summer with overwhelming bipartisan support,” Collins said. “It would also lock in dangerously inadequate funding levels for our national security and lead to cuts in other vital programs serving our veterans, older Americans and low income families.”
‘Congress has much more work to do’
During House floor debate, Granger urged her fellow GOP lawmakers to vote for the continuing resolution.
“While we have made progress in our efforts to finish fiscal year 2024 bills, Congress has much more work to do, and more time is needed to negotiate bills on both sides,” Granger said.
Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, also backed the stopgap spending bill, but said she hopes it will be the last one and that Congress will next be voting on the overdue full-year bills.
“I hope the current pace and tone will result in swiftly finalizing all 2024 funding bills in a bipartisan fashion,” DeLauro said.
House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good, a Virginia Republican, rebuked members of his own party for not pressing for a partial government shutdown in order to get policy wins.
“We’re going to pass another major piece of legislation predominantly with Democrat votes, minority votes, when we have the House majority,” Good said. “This is a loser for the American people. It’s a loser for the country.”
Republicans, Good said, should have used the Friday funding deadline and chances of a partial government shutdown to press for their preferred border and immigration policy.
“We could have utilized that momentum to attach border security to this continuing resolution and dare the Senate to vote against it and dare the Senate to vote against funding the government and securing the border,” Good said. “And we failed to do even that.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.