House Approves Short-Term Funding Measure, Averting Government Shutdown

In a decisive move, the House of Representatives endorsed a short-term spending bill on Thursday to maintain government operations until March, successfully avoiding a partial shutdown just one day before the looming deadline. The Senate had previously greenlit the two-step continuing resolution (CR), with a vote of 314-108, allowing lawmakers more time until March 1 and March 8 to finalize the formal appropriations process. This marks the third short-term spending bill ratified by Congress in fiscal 2024.

The successful passage of the stopgap represents a notable achievement for Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who navigated negotiations with congressional leaders to prevent a shutdown. Johnson managed to garner enough support within his conference to secure approval, albeit relying heavily on Democratic backing, as conservatives voiced concerns about the absence of spending cuts and insufficient border security policies. Notably, only two Democrats, Representatives Jake Auchincloss (Mass.) and Mike Quigley (Ill.), dissented against the measure.

Johnson employed a fast-track approach by bringing the legislation to the floor under the suspension of rules, bypassing the need for an initial rule approval. However, this approach necessitated two-thirds support for passage, demanding a bipartisan effort. Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) faced consequences for a similar decision in October.

Looking ahead, Speaker Johnson faces challenges, particularly in his commitment to include conservative policy riders in the 12 annual appropriations bills. Achieving this goal seems formidable given the Democratic majority in the Senate and the White House. Despite his optimism, Johnson, who has held the position for only 85 days, also grapples with discontent from conservative Republicans dissatisfied with his approach to government funding and the issue of additional aid to Ukraine.

While Johnson rejected calls from conservatives to backtrack on the bipartisan top-line spending deal and dismissed the idea of a long-term continuing resolution, there are murmurs of potential challenges to his Speakership. Representatives Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) have hinted at forcing a motion to vacate, the same mechanism used to oust McCarthy, although the threat to Johnson’s leadership seems limited.

The legislative journey on Thursday was not without last-minute drama. The House Republican leadership advanced the vote on the two-step stopgap bill from Friday morning to Thursday afternoon, with the Senate having already approved it. Notably, Representatives Bob Good (R-Va.) and Andy Harris (R-Md.) proposed adding an amendment vote on border and migration policy, a suggestion rejected by Speaker Johnson, further straining relations with conservatives.

Despite some opposition from conservatives, the two-step framework was embraced by a segment of the right-flank, offering a strategic alternative to a year-end omnibus bill. The measure extends funding for four of the 12 annual spending bills until March 1, preventing a lapse for critical departments. Additionally, it postpones the Feb. 2 deadline for other government agencies to March 8, allowing more time for negotiations.

While spending cardinals emphasize the necessity of extra time to craft all 12 funding bills, concerns about the pace of negotiations persist. Some worry about the potential need for another stopgap bill in March, which would mark the fourth in the current session, underscoring deep partisan divides over spending. Capitol Hill is also apprehensive about the looming April deadline for automatic spending cuts if Congress fails to conclude its work promptly.

Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chair of the subcommittee overseeing Department of Defense funding, expressed concern over the lack of urgency, while acknowledging ongoing efforts by top negotiators to finalize allocations for the 12 spending measures. As lawmakers tread cautiously in the coming weeks, the delicate balance between bipartisan cooperation and ideological discord will play a crucial role in determining the fate of future funding measures.

Congressional Leaders Forge Framework to Avert Shutdown and Secure Federal Funding, Facing Opposition from Far-Right Conservatives

Congressional leaders have successfully reached a consensus on a framework aimed at averting a government shutdown and ensuring federal funding until the conclusion of the fiscal year. This strategic agreement establishes top-line spending levels, allocating $886 billion for defense and approximately $773 billion for non-defense spending in the current fiscal year. The defense allocation aligns with the accord forged last year between President Joe Biden and former Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

While the framework is in place, the detailed text of the deal still requires finalization by appropriators, and Congress must pass the bills before the looming government funding deadline on January 19. The proposed agreement is poised to encounter opposition from far-right House conservatives, who had demanded substantial spending cuts and stringent border restrictions as conditions for supporting a spending bill.

Representative Chip Roy, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, expressed discontent with the agreement, deeming it “terrible” and emphasizing that it “gives away the leverage accomplished in the (already not great) caps deal.” He conveyed skepticism about the prospect of meaningful policy riders, pointing to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as an unsatisfactory preview. Roy also criticized the continued trend of escalating spending, remarking, “as usual, we keep spending more money we don’t have.”

The resistance from far-right Republicans implies that the legislation will likely require substantial support from Democrats in the Republican-controlled House to secure passage. Despite potential challenges, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries issued a joint statement, asserting that the framework agreement empowers appropriators to address significant challenges both domestically and abroad. They also highlighted the continuation of investments for American families secured through the legislative achievements of President Biden and Congressional Democrats.

Senator Johnson expressed satisfaction with the deal, noting its provisions for funding veterans and ensuring additional cuts to the IRS and COVID relief funds. Acknowledging that the spending levels may not satisfy everyone and fall short of desired cuts, Johnson emphasized that the agreement positions Congress to advocate for additional policy riders and spending reductions in the future.

President Biden welcomed the agreement in a statement, characterizing it as a crucial step toward preventing an unnecessary government shutdown and safeguarding vital national priorities. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also conveyed encouragement regarding the deal, underscoring the pressing need for Congress to promptly deliver the resources required to address serious national security challenges.

As the next step, lawmakers must collaborate on crafting legislation that secures passage in Congress before funding expires for key programs on January 19. The expiration of funding for the remainder of the government is set for February 2. The timeline adds urgency to the legislative process, demanding swift action to avoid disruptions in essential government functions and services.

The congressional leaders’ agreement on a funding framework provides a pathway to avoid a government shutdown, establishing spending levels for defense and non-defense sectors. However, challenges lie ahead as far-right conservatives express dissatisfaction, potentially necessitating bipartisan support for successful legislation. The impending deadlines for key programs and overall government funding underscore the urgency for lawmakers to finalize and pass legislation promptly.