July 23, 2024

Congress eyes short-term government funding law despite deal

Congress may need to pass a temporary government funding bill before a looming deadline to prevent a partial shutdown — even though leaders announced a spending deal over the weekend meant to keep the government open.

Funding for roughly 20 percent of the federal government — including for essential programs such as some veterans assistance, and food and drug safety services — expires on Jan. 19, and money for the rest of the government runs out shortly after that, on Feb. 2.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday agreed to spend $1.66 trillion in the 2024 fiscal year, which ends in September. But that agreement left mere days to pass several spending bills, each worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Those measures will face steep opposition from far-right House Republicans who have demanded budget cuts and called the Johnson-Schumer deal a “total failure.” Any delays could push the government into at least a partial shutdown, if Congress cannot act before the deadlines.

That means lawmakers may need to enact a stopgap spending measure, known as a continuing resolution or CR, Senate leaders of both parties said Tuesday.

“We are all working nonstop right now to get this done, but we are obviously crunched for time,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Appropriations Committee, told reporters.

Congress has a deal to fund the government and not much time to pass it

“They have a top-line agreement, Schumer and the speaker. In the meantime, we need to prevent a government shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “The obvious question is how long does the CR need to be? That will be up to the majority leader and the speaker, to determine the length of the CR.”

At the Senate’s usual plodding pace, passing a single spending bill takes a week, at best — let alone the four that must pass by next Friday to prevent a partial shutdown. Lawmakers still need to allocate funds among the 12 appropriations — or long-term financing — bills. Then they need to draft the legislative texts, a cumbersome legalistic process, and members need time to review the measures. In the Senate, each bill needs support from at least 60 members in a process that could require as many as 30 hours of debate to dodge a filibuster.

That process takes far less time in the House, where leaders can exert more control over the floor and ram legislation through rapidly.

“The simplest things take a week in the Senate,” McConnell said, “so I think frequently the House doesn’t understand how long it takes to get something through the Senate.”

But Johnson, who’s only held the speakership since late October, has struggled to corral his raucous Republican conference. He’s especially tussled recently with the volatile and archconservative House Freedom Caucus, which ousted his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), over spending issues. (McCarthy retired from Congress at the end of 2023.)

Johnson told reporters Tuesday that the House’s pace was “pedal to the metal” to pass the appropriations bills, rather than another short-term extension.

“This allows us to fight for our policy priorities, for our policy riders now, and our appropriators are resolute on doing that,” Johnson said. “The members are excited about getting that done and we’re going to do our job here.”

Subcommittee chairs in the House, though, also do not have spending allocations to write their own bills, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a senior appropriator and subcommittee chair, said. The House has until sometime in the beginning of next week to begin passing those measures before the chamber needed to consider a stopgap bill.

House Republicans sounded dour about either possibility.

“Past history would not indicate that we are that we are willing to fight for good policy or reduce spending,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the Freedom Caucus’s chair, said.

President Biden and McCarthy last spring made a deal to suspend the nation’s debt limit in exchange for limiting discretionary spending to $1.59 trillion in 2024, with 1 percent growth in 2025 and another $69 billion each year to account for inflation.

But far-right Republicans have repeatedly rejected that arrangement, requiring Johnson and McCarthy to lean on Democrats to avert government shutdowns. House Republicans have signaled that they may throw up roadblocks to passing the current budget deal, leading senators to call for a CR for more time to legislate. Potentially adding another complication, Johnson said late last year that he was “done” with short-term CRs. His office declined to comment on Tuesday on the prospect of another short-term extension.

“I’m very concerned,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said. “It would be extraordinary difficult to meet that deadline. Let’s see what happens.”

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.

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