Congress Passes Stopgap Funding Bill to Avert Government Shutdown

Lawrence Wilson
By Lawrence Wilson
February 29, 2024Congress
A new continuing resolution approved by the House will extend deadlines to March 8th and March 22nd, with 6 appropriation bills due each date.

The U.S. Senate passed a stopgap funding bill Thursday night and sent it to the desk of President Joe Biden for signing, narrowly averting another potential government shutdown that would have occurred at midnight on March 1.

The bill cleared the Senate in a 77–13 vote on Thursday night after four Republican amendments were defeated on the floor.

Earlier, the U.S. House of Representatives passed what was the fourth stopgap spending bill for the 2024 fiscal year in a 320–99 vote.

The bill came after a brief but contentious debate in the lower chamber that once again showcased the divide between moderate and more conservative factions within the Republican conference. Ninety-seven Republicans voted against the measure.

H.R. 7463 Extension of Continuing Appropriations and Other Matters Act, 2024, represents an agreement between congressional leaders and the White House over federal spending for this year, which has been hotly debated since last spring.

The reprieve will extend funding for some government departments through March 8 and others through March 22, which leaders believe will, at last, result in the passage of the six remaining spending bills required to fund the government.

Terms of Agreement

The deal was announced in a joint statement issued by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and leaders of the appropriations committees of both the House and Senate.

“We are in agreement that Congress must work in a bipartisan manner to fund our government,” the Feb. 28 statement began. The agreement sets the parameters for bills funding the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration; Commerce, Justice and Science; Energy and Water Development; Interior; Military Construction and the Veterans Administration; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

According to the agreement, those bills will be passed into law by March 8 and will stay within the discretionary spending limits agreed to in June 2023 through the Fiscal Responsibility Act and January’s topline spending agreement.

GOP Division

Arguing in favor of the bill, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chair of the Appropriations Committee,  and others pointed to the responsibility of Congress to provide funding for the government and to the futility of using government shutdowns for leverage.

“Given the differences between this year’s House and Senate bills, we knew finding common ground would not be easy, but we’ve made progress. And we need a few more weeks to finish drafting the bills. … In the meantime, we can’t afford a harmful government shutdown,” Ms. Granger said.

“Government shutdowns—and I have lived through three—never work,” Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) said. “They cause more harm than they do good.”

Arguing against the bill, members noted that it merely extends the spending priorities of the Biden administration. They urged members to use the leverage afforded by a possible shutdown to press for border security measures and reduced spending.

“We’re going to continue funding this government at Nancy Pelosi’s omnibus spending level,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said. “That is a level that will continue. … to fund all of the priorities we oppose.”

Referring to President Joe Biden’s perceived inaction on the southern border, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said: “What is the Legislative Branch’s remedy to an executive branch that refuses to follow the law? It is to remove spending.”

Ms. Granger and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, led the debate in favor of the bill while Mr. Roy led the opposition, a fact noted by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).

“Why are there three members of Congress controlling time on the floor? I thought there were only two parties. Nope. When it comes to spending, there’s the Uniparty,” Mr. Massie said.

Few Democrats rose to debate the bill, apparently preferring to allow Republicans to showcase the division within their ranks.

How We Got Here

The Fiscal Responsibility Act was negotiated by then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican who represented California, and President Biden. Fiscal hawks objected to the bill because it went beyond the limits approved by House Republicans in the Limit, Save, Grow Act in April of 2023.

The agreement calls for the remaining spending bills to be passed by March 22. Those bills cover spending for the Department of Defense; Financial Services and Government Administration; Legislative Branch; and State and Foreign Operations.

The bill extends fiscal year 2023 spending levels, which expired on Sept. 30, to cover this roughly three-week period.

Mr. McCarthy was ousted from his role as speaker in part because of his engineering of the passage of a 45-day continuing spending resolution (CR) on Sept. 30, 2023. Mr. Johnson presided over the passage of a “laddered” CR in October 2023, with staged expiration dates on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2.

Congress passed a third CR on Jan. 18, extending funding for some government services through March 1 and others through March 8.

‘Domestic Spying’

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) reacted to the proposed deal on social media, criticizing its temporary reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act.

“Under the new government funding plan pushed by The Firm, unconstitutional domestic spying on American citizens will continue undisturbed. No matter how little you trust Washington, it’s too much,” Mr. Lee wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Feb. 28.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) repeated a call to pass a full-year CR that would include automatic spending cuts as an alternative to the deal proposed by congressional leaders.

“Washington’s spending addiction has put us $34 trillion in debt. It’s sad that a full-year continuing resolution is the most realistic option to do anything positive for the American people, but at least it would save $100 billion versus the current ‘deal,’” Mr. Good wrote on Feb. 28.

The four top congressional leaders—Mr. Johnson, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Jeffries, and Mr. McConnell—met with President Biden on Feb. 27 to discuss the nation’s budget. Mr. Schumer later described the meeting as tense but productive.

Border Crisis

Mr. Johnson emerged from the conference calling it “frank and honest.” He added that he had reiterated the position of House Republicans that the United States’ needs must come before continued spending on Ukraine, pointing to the immigration crisis at the southern border. Mr. Johnson also said he was “very optimistic” about preventing a government shutdown.

Before the Oval Office meeting, he came under fire from some in his own party, including Mr. Roy, who complained that Mr. Johnson had robbed himself of leverage in the debate by publicly saying that he intended to avoid a shutdown.

Mr. Johnson defended the deal in a news conference ahead of the scheduled vote by saying it was both necessary and a positive step in reforming the federal budgeting process.

“Our first responsibility is to fund the government,” he said, adding that to secure the border is Congress’s second task.

Mr. Johnson said this year’s budgeting effort represents progress over the opaque process that has become routine in Washington.

“We’ve instituted some new innovations. We broke the omnibus fever,” he said, referring to Congress’s penchant for passing large, catchall spending bills just as funding is set to expire.

The speaker insisted that members have had more say in the budgeting process this year as bills worked their way through committees, and would have 72 hours to review the final text of the remaining spending bills before voting.

From The Epoch Times

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