UNITED STATES NEWS

House approves $1.2 trillion package of spending bills before shutdown deadline, Senate up next

Mar 22, 2024, 8:49 AM | Updated: 8:51 pm

U.S. Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) speaks during a press conference before the House voted on a government s...

U.S. Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) speaks during a press conference before the House voted on a government spending package on March 22, 2024. He is joined by fellow members of the the House Freedom Caucus, including Arizona's Andy Biggs (first person on the left). The package passed despite Freedom Caucus opposition. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate bogged down Friday evening on a $1.2 trillion package of spending bills, increasing the prospects that funding for some key federal agencies could lapse and initiate a partial government shutdown beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Though passage was not in doubt, Republicans and Democrats were at odds over votes on proposed amendments in exchange for expediting a final vote.

Republicans said Friday evening that they had proposed several amendments on border security and other issues, but that Democrats had rejected those votes during hours of talks. Any successful amendments to the bill would send the legislation back to the House, which has already left town for a two-week recess.

“Right now, it doesn’t look good,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said after emerging from talks on the Senate floor.

The practical impact of a funding lapse in the near term would likely be minimal, with federal offices closed for the weekend and many government services funded through earlier legislation. Still, there could be varying impacts on the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies that would see a lapse in funds — especially if the disagreements drag into Monday.

The White House Office of Management and Budget typically sends out guidance to agencies ahead of any potential funding lapse.

While Congress has already approved money for Veterans Affairs, Interior, Agriculture and other agencies, the bill at issue Friday is much larger, providing funding for the Defense, Homeland Security and State departments and other aspects of general government.

The House had approved the package of spending bills earlier Friday, a long overdue action nearly six months into the budget year that would push any threats of a government shutdown to the fall.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 286-134, narrowly gaining the two-thirds majority needed for approval. More than 70% of the money would go to defense.

The vote in the House reflected anger among Republicans over the content of the package and the speed with which it was brought to a vote. House Speaker Mike Johnson brought the measure to the floor even though a majority of Republicans ended up voting against it. He said afterward that the bill “represents the best achievable outcome in a divided government.”

In sign of the conservative frustration, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., initiated an effort to oust Johnson as the House began the vote but held off on further action until the House returns in two weeks. It’s the same tool that was used last year to remove the last Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy of California.

The vote breakdown showed 101 Republicans voting for the bill and 112 voting against it. Meanwhile, 185 Democrats voted for the bill and 22 against.

Rep. Kay Granger, the Republican chair of the House Appropriations Committee that helped draft the package, stepped down from that role after the vote. She said she would stay on the committee to provide advice and lead as a teacher for colleagues when needed.

Johnson broke up this fiscal year’s spending bills into two parts as House Republicans revolted against what has become an annual practice of asking them to vote for one massive, complex bill called an omnibus with little time to review it or face a shutdown. Johnson viewed that as a breakthrough, saying the two-part process was “an important step in breaking the omnibus muscle memory.”

Still, the package was clearly unpopular with most Republicans, who viewed it as containing too few of their policy priorities and as spending too much.

“The bottom line is that this is a complete and utter surrender,” said Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Mo.

It’s taken lawmakers six months into the current fiscal year to get near the finish line on government funding, the process slowed by conservatives who pushed for more policy mandates and steeper spending cuts than a Democratic-led Senate or White House would consider. The impasse required several short-term, stopgap spending bills to keep agencies funded.

The first package of full-year spending bills, which funded the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and the Interior, among others, cleared Congress two weeks ago with just hours to spare before funding expired for those agencies.

When combining the two packages, discretionary spending for the budget year will come to about $1.66 trillion. That does not include programs such as Social Security and Medicare, or financing the country’s rising debt.

To win over support from Republicans, Johnson touted some of the spending increases secured for about 8,000 more detention beds for migrants awaiting their immigration proceedings or removal from the country. That’s about a 24% increase from current levels. Also, GOP leadership highlighted more money to hire about 2,000 Border Patrol agents.

Democrats, meanwhile, are boasting of a $1 billion increase for Head Start programs and new child care centers for military families. They also played up a $120 million increase in funding for cancer research and a $100 million increase for Alzheimer’s research.

“Make no mistake, we had to work under very difficult top-line numbers and fight off literally hundreds of extreme Republican poison pills from the House, not to mention some unthinkable cuts,” said Sen. Patty Murray, the Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “But at the end of the day this is a bill that will keep our country and our families moving forward.”

Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on that committee, appealed to her GOP colleagues by stating that the bill’s spending on non-defense programs actually decreases even before accounting for inflation. She called the package “conservative” and “carefully drafted.”

“These bills are not big spending bills that are wildly out of scope,” Collins said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called on the Senate to pass the spending bill as quickly as possible.

“This bill is a compromise,” she said. “No side got everything it wanted.”

The spending in the bill largely tracks with an agreement that then-Speaker McCarthy worked out with the White House in May 2023, which restricted spending for two years and suspended the debt ceiling into January 2025 so the federal government could continue paying its bills.

Shalanda Young, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told lawmakers that last year’s agreement, which became the Fiscal Responsibility Act, will save the federal government about $1 trillion over the coming decade.

___

Associated Press congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro and staff writers Farnoush Amiri and Chris Megerian contributed to this report.

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House approves $1.2 trillion package of spending bills before shutdown deadline, Senate up next