Congress passes the first package of spending bills hours before the shutdown deadline for key agencies

(J Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Congress passes the first package of spending bills hours before the shutdown deadline for key agencies


March 9, 2024

The Senate passed a $460 billion package of spending bills on Friday in time to meet a midnight deadline to avoid a shutdown of many key federal agencies, a vote that puts lawmakers about halfway through completing their appropriations for the financial year 2024.

The measure includes six annual expenditure bills and has already been adopted by the House of Representatives. It now goes to President Biden to sign the bill into law. The White House said he would do so on Saturday, and the agencies will not close and can continue normal operations.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are negotiating a second package of six bills, including defense, in an effort to have all federal agencies fully funded by the March 22 deadline.

For people who worry that divided government means nothing ever gets done, this bipartisan package says otherwise,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

He said passage of the bill would allow for the hiring of more air traffic controllers and railroad safety inspectors, give federal firefighters a pay raise and increase support for homeless veterans, among other things.

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 75 to 22. The House scrambled to reach a final vote just hours before the midnight deadline for the first batch of appropriations bills. Lawmakers sought votes on several amendments and wanted to have their say on the bill and other priorities during the on-site debate. It was unclear in the afternoon whether senators would be able to avoid a brief shutdown, though eventual passage was never really in doubt.

“I would urge my colleagues to stop playing with fire here,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican member of the Senate committee. It would be irresponsible of us not to pass these bills and do the fundamental job of funding government. What’s more important?

This week’s votes come more than five months into the current budget year, after congressional leaders relied on a series of stopgap bills to keep federal agencies funded for weeks or months at a time as they struggled to agree on the expenses for the entire year. .

Ultimately, total discretionary spending enacted by Congress is expected to amount to about $1.66 trillion for the full fiscal year ending September 30.

Republicans were able to keep non-defense spending relatively stable compared to the previous year. Advocates say this is progress in an era when annual federal deficits exceeding $1 trillion have become the norm. But many Republican lawmakers were looking for much sharper cuts and more policy victories.

The House Freedom Caucus, which includes dozens of the GOP’s most conservative members, urged Republicans to vote against the first spending package because the second is still being negotiated.

Democrats blocked most policymakers that Republicans wanted to include in the package. For example, they beat back an attempt to block new rules expanding access to the abortion pill mifepristone. They were also able to fully fund a nutrition program for low-income women, infants, and children, raising about $7 billion for what is known as the WIC program. That’s an increase of $1 billion from the previous year.

However, Republicans were able to score some policy victories. For example, one provision will prevent the sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China. Another policy mandate prohibits the Justice Department from investigating parents who exercise free speech rights at local school board meetings.

Another provision strengthens gun rights for certain veterans, although opponents of the measure said it could make it easier for people with very serious mental illnesses such as dementia to obtain a firearm.

This is not the package I would have written on my own,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But I’m proud that we protected the absolutely essential funding that the American people rely on. their daily lives.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said there were too many compromises, leading to too much spending.

Many people don’t understand this. They think there is no cooperation in Washington and the opposite is true. There is a compromise every day on every spending bill,” Paul said.

It’s a compromise between big-government Democrats and big-government Republicans.

Still, with a divided Congress and a Democratic-led White House, any bill that doesn’t get support from members of both political parties has no chance of passing.

The bill also includes more than 6,600 projects requested by individual lawmakers, with a price tag of about $12.7 billion. The projects drew criticism from some Republican members, although members of both parties broadly participated in requesting them on behalf of their states and congressional districts. Paul called the spending “the kind of fat that ends up in billions and trillions of other dollars because you get people to buy into the total package by giving them a little bit of pork for their city, a little bit of pork for their donors.”

But an effort by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to scrap the projects drew only 32 votes, with 64 against. Murray said Scott’s efforts would “undo all the hard work, all the input we asked from everyone on projects that would help their constituents.”

Even though lawmakers find themselves passing spending bills five months into the budget year, Republicans view the process as improved because they have broken the cycle of passing all the spending bills in one big package, which lawmakers have little time to study before passing are asked to vote. or risk government shutdown. Still, others said splitting the funding into two pieces of legislation was hardly a breakthrough.

The first package includes the Departments of Justice, Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Interior and Transportation.

Kevin Freking writes for the Associated Press.


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