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Will The Current Spending Deal Stick?


Although congressional leaders announced an agreement to avert a partial shutdown next week, it’s not clear that House Republicans are onboard.

Once again, the federal government shutdown clock is ticking.

 

Under an agreement approved last fall, on Jan. 19, 2024, funding expires for four of the federal government’s 12 annual spending bills: Agriculture, Energy and Water, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. Two weeks later, on Feb. 2, funding for the other eight annual appropriations bills expires. Those are: Commerce-Justice-Science; Defense; Financial Services and General Government; Homeland Security; Interior and the Environment; Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services; the Legislative Branch, and State and Foreign Operations bills.

 

The good news is that, over the weekend, leaders from the two parties seemed to come to an agreement on broad parameters for a path forward.

 

But how likely is it that rank-and-file lawmakers in the House and Senate will agree to it by deadline time – or at all?

 

Let’s take a look.

 

What’s In The (Latest) Fiscal Year 2024 Spending Deal?

On Sunday, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that they had reached a deal on how to wrap up the fiscal year (FY) 2024 appropriations process.

 

Specifically, according to The Hill, the deal would set a spending limit of $1.59 trillion for discretionary spending for FY 2024. That number would include $886 billion for defense spending and $704 billion for nondefense spending, which includes everything from education to border security to funding for Congress itself.  Notably, these numbers are very much in line with the budget caps included in a bipartisan deal that President Biden and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) struck to raise the debt ceiling last summer. (That deal was, of course, one that cost Rep. McCarthy the speakership. But more on that point later.)

 

The agreement does not address the ongoing negotiations between Republicans and Democrats surrounding a package to enhance border security, nor does it address the White House’s supplemental funding requests for additional military aid for Ukraine and Israel.

 

In getting to this point, Democrats did make concessions. As The Hill explained, “The number on the nondefense side is a notable contrast from what Democrats have been touting of the recent compromise.” Democrats reportedly agreed to accelerate rescissions of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funding that Congress already agreed to (and that Republican lawmakers pushed), and to rescind about $6 billion in COVID pandemic-related funding. Still, Democrats have said the agreement will protect “key domestic priorities like veterans’ benefits, health care and nutrition assistance from the draconian cuts sought by right-wing extremists.”

 

GOP leaders also declared victory to their rank-and-file members. As Politico reported, in a letter sent to House Republicans after the deal was inked, Speaker Johnson called it a conservative victory, arguing the outline is “the most favorable budget agreement Republicans have achieved in over a decade.” Speaker Johnson also said the agreement would result in “real savings to American taxpayers and real reductions in the federal bureaucracy.” Speaker Johnson specifically called out the IRS spending cuts and the claw back of COVID aid.

 

President Joe Biden was quick to voice his support for the agreement. “The bipartisan funding framework congressional leaders have reached moves us one step closer to preventing a needless government shutdown and protecting important national priorities,” President Biden said in a statement released shortly after the deal was announced.

 

Speaker Johnson, at this point at least, appears to be fully behind the agreement as well. Yesterday he told Punchbowl News, “We got the pedal to the metal on the appropriations process. The appropriators are all working in earnest. The staffs are — they are overworked — everybody is doing their best to meet the deadlines.”

 

Regarding those deadlines, according to Roll Call, Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas) are now negotiating specific allocations that adhere to the agreement. “Without those final numbers, appropriators can’t finish drafting the bills,” Roll Call explained.

 

Sen. Murray and Rep. Granger have said they aim to have that work done by this Friday.

 

If they complete that work, then lawmakers will be able to consider the bills on the House and Senate floors this weekend. That debate, of course, is not likely to be pretty … and the votes may not even be successful.

 

Will This Deal Avert A Government Shutdown?

While Republicans leaders in the U.S. House are united behind this agreement, their biggest obstacle to getting the deal through the lower chamber of Congress is their own members. After all, as noted above, it was just this sort of agreement that, last summer, caused the right flank of the Republican caucus to call for a vote to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

 

Indeed, the piling on by GOP lawmakers began almost immediately.

 

“Don’t be fooled. The DC Uniparty’s spending ‘deal’ is a total sham. The REAL topline spending level is $1.658 trillion — not $1.59 trillion,” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said on social media on Monday. “Our nation simply cannot afford the Swamp’s reckless spending habits.”

 

The complaints have continued.

 

As Politico reported this morning, in a meeting with House GOP leadership last night, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the newly-minted chair of the Freedom Caucus, made his displeasure about the spending deal known. “Why don’t you fight more? I’m sick of being told we can’t have the fight,” Rep. Good reportedly said to Speaker Johnson.

 

Politico and Punchbowl also reported that some House Republicans already are developing plans for how they can oust Speaker Johnson if the spending deal goes through. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) openly has raised the possibility, while Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) — one of the eight GOP lawmakers who pushed for former Speaker McCarthy’s removal — said simply, “A lot of people are talking about it.”

 

Opposition from Republican House members is not the only obstacle that could prevent this agreement from being signed into law.

 

The agreement also is silent about which amendments lawmakers are able to offer to the spending legislation. These “policy riders,” which can cover any topic from reproductive health to climate change, are often controversial and their inclusion can doom a piece of spending legislation even if the two parties agree on the budget line items.

 

Democrats have said they are not open to any policy riders, Roll Call reported. In fact, Sen. Murray said, “We will not be able to get any of our bills done if House Republicans insist on partisan poison pills that we all know are nonstarters … So let me repeat: Democrats will not accept Republican poison pill changes. No changes — period.”

 

Speaker Johnson clearly has other ideas. In that letter sent to Republican House lawmakers on Sunday, he maintained that the topline deal would allow House Republicans to advocate for policy riders.

 

As if those issues were not sticky enough, Senate Republicans also are continuing to fight over how hard to push their immigration priorities amid the effort to provide funding for foreign priorities such as Ukraine. That debate could eventually be wrapped into the fight over a final FY 2024 spending bill.

 

Another Option To Avoid A Shutdown

Of course, even if this deal does not make it through the House and Senate, there is another way to avert a partial or full government shutdown: Yet another continuing resolution (CR).

 

And that option is now what some lawmakers are suggesting.

 

Over the last 24 hours, several Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have said Congress will need to pass a CR to avoid missing the Jan. 19 deadline for which the first four spending bills are set to expire. Punchbowl News reported that Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) lawmakers need to pass a CR that extends until March, which would be halfway through FY 2024.

 

Federal spending: It is a saga, and one that might not end anytime soon.

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