U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks on his cell phone as walks back to his office in the U.S. Capitol building on Nov. 13, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.
WASHINGTON — Congress appeared to be on the edge of approving another short-term government funding bill this week, though several hurdles remain if lawmakers want to stave off a partial government shutdown when the current funding law expires at the end of the week.
Democratic leaders and President Joe Biden expressed some skepticism about House Republicans’ so-called “laddered” stopgap spending bill on Monday, but they didn’t rule out voting for the measure that would fund parts of the government through mid-January and other programs through early February. Approving it would mean lawmakers could leave for the Thanksgiving holiday without an immediate spending crisis hanging over them.
The top three House Democrats — Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California — wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter they were “carefully evaluating the proposal.”
“While House Republicans have abandoned a laddered funding approach with multiple expiration dates, we remain concerned with the bifurcation of the continuing resolution in January and February 2024,” they wrote. “In addition, the failure of House Republicans to address the national security and domestic supplemental funding priorities of the American people is also troublesome.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, offered lukewarm comments about the stopgap spending bill that’s often referred to as a continuing resolution, or CR. It would avert a partial shutdown when the current CR ends on Friday at midnight.
“For now, I am pleased that Speaker Johnson seems to be moving in our direction by advancing a CR that does not include the highly partisan cuts that Democrats have warned against,” Schumer said, referring to House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican.
“The speaker’s proposal is far from perfect, but the most important thing is that it refrains from making steep cuts, while also extending funding for Defense in the second tranche of bills in February, not the first in January,” he said.
Schumer noted there could be obstacles to getting the short-term funding bill out of the House, given growing opposition from far-right members of the House Republican Conference.
“The next few days will tell all in the House and I hope the speaker does not buckle to the loud voices on his hard right flank to add partisan cuts as the price for keeping the government open,” Schumer said.
Biden didn’t commit to signing or vetoing the short-term spending bill on Monday, saying he wants to see what happens.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, backed the House’s short-term spending bill, saying it would avoid a partial government shutdown from beginning just before Thanksgiving and allow Congress to keep working on must-pass legislation.
“There’s a lot of work left to do — aside from the remaining full-year appropriations bills, glaring national security priorities continue to demand our attention from Israel to Ukraine to the Indo-Pacific and of course our southern border.” McConnell said.
“House Republicans have produced a responsible measure that will keep the lights on, avoid a harmful lapse in government funding and provide the time and space to finish that important work,” McConnell added.
Spending bill has two new deadlines
Johnson, facing his first real test of governing, on Saturday released the “laddered” spending bill that would fund some of the federal government through mid-January and the rest through early February.
That, in theory, could give Congress and the Biden administration more time to reach agreement on the dozen, full-year government funding bills that were supposed to become law by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.
The 32-page stopgap spending bill would provide funding until Jan. 19 for the departments and agencies within the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD spending bills.
The remaining federal programs funded in the other eight spending bills would be covered until Feb. 2. Those include the Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations bills.
The legislation would also extend many of the programs within the farm bill through Sept, 30, 2024, giving lawmakers significantly more time to work out a bipartisan version of the legislation that passes every five years.
The House could vote on the bill as soon as Tuesday, showing whether Democrats are willing to support the legislation.
Several House Republicans have already announced their opposition to the bill, including Ohio’s Warren Davidson, Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, Virginia’s Bob Good and Pennsylvania’s Scott Perry.
“I will not support a status quo that fails to acknowledge fiscal irresponsibility, and changes absolutely nothing while emboldening a do-nothing Senate and a fiscally illiterate President,” Perry wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Davidson wrote on X that the “current short-term funding proposal includes a 1-year extension of the Farm Bill (no reform), status quo policies, and status quo funding levels. Disappointing is as polite as I can muster. I will be voting NO.”
“Hopefully, the consensus will result in a more reasonable bill,” Davidson wrote.
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