Congress Clears Stopgap Spending Bill for Biden, Moving to Avert Shutdown

WASHINGTON — Congress on Thursday sent legislation to avert a partial government shutdown to President Joe Biden, racing to fund federal agencies through early March one day before money was to run out.

Over the strenuous opposition of far-right Republicans, the House voted 314-108 to approve the stopgap funding just hours after the Senate provided overwhelming bipartisan backing for the measure in a 77-18 vote, allowing lawmakers to narrowly beat a Friday deadline.

“There will not be a shutdown on Friday,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader. “Because both sides have worked together, the government will stay open. Services will not be disrupted. We will avoid a needless disaster.”

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Passage of the bill affords lawmakers another six weeks to negotiate and pass a dozen spending bills totaling $1.66 trillion to fund the government through the fall, the level Democrats and Republicans agreed upon earlier this month. That plan would hold most federal spending steady while bolstering the military.

The action in Congress cleared the measure for Biden, who is expected to quickly sign it before the midnight deadline Friday. It marked the third time since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 that Congress has extended spending on a temporary basis.

Lawmakers in both parties hope that it will be the last, and that Congress can complete its spending business for the year by the beginning of March. Congressional leaders noted that the constant threat of government shutdowns causes chaos for federal agencies even if the crisis is averted at the last minute.

The House vote presented the latest challenge for Speaker Mike Johnson, who personally negotiated the overall spending package with Schumer and has been savaged by the hard-right faction in the House for doing so. Right-wing Republicans had pressed for far deeper spending cuts and argued the House should block government spending altogether until Biden agrees to a crackdown on migration at the U.S. border with Mexico.

The House Freedom Caucus on Thursday urged Republicans to reject the bill, saying the legislation represented a continuation of policies established by Biden and the Democratic-controlled Congress in 2022 that almost all House Republicans opposed at the time.

“Speaker Mike Johnson should walk away from his agreement with Senate Majority Leader Schumer and pass an appropriations package that meaningfully reduces spending year-over-year and secures our southern border,” the Freedom Caucus said in a statement. “That is what winning looks like.”

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., who leads the caucus, called the bill a “loser for the American people.”

“We have the majority in one half of the legislative branch,” he said. “When will that begin to count for something?”

In the end, Johnson was only able to cobble together a bare majority of Republicans voting on the bill, with 107 backing it and 106 opposed. Democrats supplied the bulk of the support.

Johnson has told his colleagues that he believes a shutdown could provoke an election-year backlash against Republicans, and that once one took place, it would prove difficult to bring to an end.

Given the internal opposition, Johnson was forced to use a special procedure that sidestepped Republican opposition to even get the bill to the floor. He then had to rely on substantial help from Democrats to pass it, just as former Speaker Kevin McCarthy did last year in averting a shutdown as well as a federal default. While McCarthy’s maneuvers contributed to the push to oust him, multiple conservatives have said they do not anticipate a move to remove Johnson over the spending issue.

Even considering the bill represented a reversal by the speaker, who pledged last year never to take up another short-term spending package. But time ran out to enact the 12 individual bills that fund the government, forcing his hand.

To overcome procedural objections to moving ahead quickly in the Senate, Schumer allowed Republicans votes on three proposed changes that would have effectively derailed the measure. But all fell short, clearing the way for approval and a quick House vote. With a snowstorm forecast for Washington on Friday, the action was accelerated as lawmakers feared airline cancellations that could leave them stranded in Washington over the weekend.

Under the legislation, funding for agriculture, veterans programs, transportation, housing and other federal operations would be maintained through March 1, with funding for the rest of the government, including the Defense Department, expiring March 8.

With the additional time, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees hope to push through the dozen bills funding the government according to the spending level agreed to by Johnson and Schumer. But it will not be easy.

Besides objections to the spending itself, far-right conservatives in the House are demanding the measures include restrictions on abortion and other limits on government authority that Democrats say they will not accept, setting up a showdown over those policy provisions.

“We have a lot of work left to do,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “It has to happen in a bipartisan way.”

If lawmakers fail to come to agreement on the legislation, they face the prospect of an automatic 1% spending cut across all federal programs, both domestic and military.

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