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Congress enters final stretch of budget race

Congressional leaders reveal the last six spending bills for this fiscal year

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., during a press conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday Associated Press / Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Congress enters final stretch of budget race

Congressional leaders unveiled their second and final batch of appropriations bills on Thursday morning, entering a final sprint to pass them before a partial government shutdown goes into effect on Friday.

The 1,012-page package doesn’t achieve everything Republicans hoped to accomplish in a spending struggle that has dragged on since October. But in a news conference ahead of the bills’ release, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., celebrated their completion. 

“I think the final product is something we were able to achieve a lot of key provisions in and move in the direction that we want even with our tiny, historically small majority,” Johnson said on Wednesday morning.

He noted that he resisted pressures from Democrats to fund many of the Biden administration’s top priorities.

“We maintained all the Hyde protections so there’s no federal funding for abortion,” Johnson said, referencing federal restrictions put in place in 1977. He noted that the bill also would increase funding for border security and represent the first overall cut to nondefense spending in almost a decade.

The package funds the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, state and foreign operations, the legislative branch, and the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, as well as financial services, general government, and other administrative departments. Combined with the six bills passed earlier this month, this package would bring 2024 discretionary spending to roughly $1.6 trillion—a slight reduction from the $1.7 trillion allocated in 2023.

Since taking over as House speaker in October, Johnson has worked to revive the practice of considering and passing single-subject spending bills—something Congress hasn’t done in almost 40 years. In recent years, party leaders have negotiated mammoth omnibus spending bills that were thousands of pages long and received little line-by-line scrutiny.

But after months of negotiations, Johnson has only partially reached his goal. Instead of passing one omnibus bill, he’s separated out government spending into two sets of six bills.

I asked Rep. John Amodei, R-Nev., one of the 12 Republicans tasked with working on the appropriations negotiations, if he sees any difference between this year’s efforts and what Congress did under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He’s been around long enough to remember similar tensions over spending under Republican Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan.

“It depends on the context. What’s your standard? If it’s perfection—well, tell me who got that ever? Am I happy where we’re at? Are we ‘mission accomplished?’ Absolutely not. But we gotta keep moving,” Amodei said.

The procedural wins might be marginal, but Amodei believes they are a step in the right direction. The other option would be to shut down the government—something he thinks is politically infeasible.

Rep. Bob Good, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was less positive about the GOP’s performance this year. “I don’t think it’s significant that it’s two ‘minibuses’ instead of one omnibus,” Good said, referencing Johnson’s two-step approach. “I don’t think it's significant that we don’t have much in the way of policy wins.”

Good pointed out that the House passed previous versions of eight of the 12 appropriations bills earlier this year. Those versions contained many of Republicans’ spending cuts and policy priorities, but most of them went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

But to pass the bills in time to avert a government shutdown on Friday, Johnson will have to break House rules that require the publication of legislation 72 hours before it is voted on. Some Republicans say that undermines the goal of having a more transparent budget process.

“We’re having thoughtful discussions in the conference. The Republican party believes in the idea that you review legislation before you vote on it,” Johnson said. “We’re also up against the crunch of the weekend. So we’re talking about how to expedite it as quickly as possible.”

Johnson could ask lawmakers to pass a short-term resolution to keep the government open until a vote on the budget bills next week, but he said he doesn’t think that will be necessary.

Over the weekend, 41 of the most conservative Republican lawmakers, including Good, signed a letter criticizing the policy concessions that GOP leaders made with the White House. Some of those concessions included continued funding to sanctuary cities, a lack of restrictions on local governments allowing noncitizens to vote, insufficient border wall construction, continued mass-parole policies for illegal immigrants, and more.

“The power we hold in Congress is singular—described by James Madison as ‘the power of the purse.’ The next government appropriations package funds multiple avenues Biden exploits to release millions [of illegal immigrants] into America,” the letter stated. “The abuse can be checked if the House of Representatives exercises its constitutional duty.”

But leaving out many of the Republicans’ demands ensures Democratic support for the bills, something needed for them to pass in the face of such opposition. Republicans hold just a two-seat majority in the House.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee, expressed satisfaction with the negotiations.

“We’re going to get them passed,” DeLauro told me Tuesday evening. “We came to a conclusion on all the bills which I am very excited about. It’s good.”

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


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