Lawmakers unveil $1.2trn spending bill ahead of looming government shutdown

The spending bill comes as the government is set to shut down this weekend

Eric Garcia,Gustaf Kilander
Thursday 21 March 2024 19:00 GMT
Congress scrambles to avoid a looming partial government shutdown

The Senate and House Appropriations Committees on Thursday released the text to fund major departments of the US government and avoid a shutdown.

The appropriators dropped the text in the early hours of Thursday morning. The so-called minibus spending bill will fund the State Department; the Pentagon; the Department of Homeland Security; Congress; the Department of Health and Human Services; the Department of Education; financial services and the general government.

In addition to various aspects of government funding, the spending bill will also include 12,000 special immigrant visas for Afghans who assisted US service members in America’s longest war.

“We had to work within difficult fiscal constraints — but this bipartisan compromise will keep our country moving forward, and I hope all of my colleagues will work with us to get it signed into law as soon as possible,” Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, said in a statement.

“I am really pleased we’ve gotten this far and we need to get across the finish line,” she told The Independent.

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said his thoughts on the spending agreement were “pretty darn simple – I think it costs money to shut the government down, costs money to open the government up. And government is supposed to be of service to the people of this country. And I think we got to pass the bill to keep the government running”.

The agreement will keep the government open until the end of the fiscal year on 30 September. It is part of a bipartisan agreement wherein six spending bills passed earlier this month and the additional six spending bills would pass this week.

The chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Texas Republican Representative Kay Granger, told The Independent she believes the agreement will pass.

When asked about conservative critics frustrated with the process, she said, “well, the process is the process” adding that “oftentimes it's people that are not part of that process” who are frustrated with it.

“I always keep apprised as it goes along, I don't ever wait till the last minute and then say ‘now, this is what we've done’. I work with them all the time,” she added.

Republicans have long objected to the use of “omnibus” spending bills wherein the appropriations committees combine the 12 individual spending bills into one must-pass spending bill, typically at the end of the calendar year.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio told The Independent, “It’s full of earmarks, that’s the problem I have”.

“I think [Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins] has done an extraordinary job. It could have been a lot worse,” he added. “But you know, it's always problematic because people around here are pigs and they just can't help themselves and just fill it with a bunch of crap.”

Ms Collins, the Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The Independent, “I think it's an achievement, which everyone can be proud of but let's not count our chickens before they hatch”.

Republicans had also hoped that they could use the appropriations process to include provisions restricting immigration. On Monday, the House Freedom Caucus sent a letter asking that House Republican leadership include provisions from the so-called Secure the Border Act.

The spending agreement also signals the ability of House Speaker Mike Johnson – who took the gavel after conservatives ejected previous speaker Kevin McCarthy – to negotiate with the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House.

President Joe Biden announced that he would sign the spending agreement as soon as it passes.

But Congress faces a tight deadline as the government would shut down by 12.01am on Saturday morning. Typically, the House requires 72 hours once a bill drops for lawmakers to read and learn about it before a vote. But the House, where all spending legislation must first pass, will likely expedite the passage of the legislation.

In addition, the overwhelming bipartisan cooperation from Democrats and Republicans on both committees likely means the bill will be able to pass under suspension of the rules, where a bill does not need to pass through the House Rules Committee and then have a rule go to the floor to set the parameters of debate.

Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern, the ranking member on the House Rules Committee, told The Independent that the agreement could “have been achieved six months ago”.

“Everything is right to the brink, everything is a nail-biter. I mean, the American people are exhausted,” he added.

Conservative dissenters in the House Republican conference have frequently voted down rules on the floor, meaning that legislation requires an overwhelming bipartisan majority to even have a vote given the razor-thin Republican majority.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger, a Republican from Texas, said the spending bill includes conservative priorities on the US-Mexico border.

“With the odds stacked against us, House Republicans have refocused spending on America's interests, at home and abroad, and I urge support of this bill,” she said in a statement.

Republicans and Democrats alike are eager to pass the bill so that they can head off to their two-week recess and begin campaigning in what will be a contentious election.

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