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Stopgap funding bill clears House; next stop is Biden’s desk

Lines drawn for lame-duck spending battle; requests start to roll in for more hurricane aid

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House cleared a temporary spending bill needed to avoid a partial government shutdown ahead of Friday night’s deadline, giving lawmakers a reprieve until after the midterm elections when they’ll need to figure out a longer-term funding plan for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2023.

The measured passed on a 230-201, mostly party-line vote and will now be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk where he’s expected to sign it later on Friday. The Senate passed the measure Thursday, 72-25, after that chamber resolved some last-minute holds

House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., joked on the floor that the legislation should win broad bipartisan support because 72 senators can’t usually even “agree on what to have for lunch.”

But House GOP leaders whipped against the bill. They cited add-ons like $1.8 billion in emergency funds to care for migrant border-crossers without extra money for border security, and $1 billion to help low-income households pay winter heating bills after Democrats enacted a new methane emissions fee in the reconciliation law while natural gas prices are on the rise. 

The top Republican appropriator, Kay Granger, R-Texas, said the continuing resolution “did nothing” to address three issues: the border, energy and inflation.

“This bill does nothing to fix any of these issues,” she said. “In fact, this bill actually bails out the Biden administration for their failures, and provides additional appropriations to put a Band-Aid on some of these problems for a few more months.”

In particular, Granger spoke against the funding for migrant children and families. “Providing more funding without changing the policies that led to this crisis will only encourage more migrants to come,” she said.

Many Republicans opposed extending interim appropriations levels through Dec. 16, arguing Democrats have refused to negotiate with them on higher defense spending and money to secure the southern border, including against drug traffickers. They said the new deadline would set up another funding showdown during the lame-duck session after Democrats may have lost control of the chamber, risking a shutdown.

But roughly half the Senate Republican Conference agreed that Congress should wrap up the fiscal 2023 spending bills this year, including several who are retiring such as Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s ranking member.

And the urgency of helping Ukraine as it pushes back against Russia’s invasion and an initial round of disaster relief for hurricane-stricken communities — with more to come probably in the lame-duck session — was enough to put the measure over the top. Not to mention lawmakers were eager to get out of Washington and onto the campaign trail.

Winners, losers

Democrats didn’t get everything they wanted in the stopgap bill, either. Republicans forced them to drop nearly $27 billion in emergency funds the Biden administration sought for COVID-19 and monkeypox response efforts, which was a top priority for House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

“Despite these shortcomings, the investments included in this bill are urgent and necessary to avoid disruptions to vital federal agencies, to help communities get back on their feet, to ensure we have the time needed to negotiate a final funding agreement that meets the needs of hard-working people,” DeLauro said on the floor. 

Democrats included additional funds above the Biden request for winter heating aid, doubling the amount to $1 billion, and tacked on a little extra for Department of Housing and Urban Development disaster aid grants, for a total of $2 billion.

Along with the money for migrant kids, there’s nearly $5 billion in all for one-time spending items on top of $12.3 billion for Ukraine military and economic aid. Another $3 billion in unspent funds that were set to expire would instead be repurposed to help ongoing resettlement efforts for Afghan refugees.

Importantly, with Hurricane Ian continuing to bear down on the East Coast, the measure would free up $18.8 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, part of a usual “anomaly” in stopgap bills that lets FEMA’s disaster aid fund tap its full-year appropriation up front rather than just a prorated amount for the CR’s duration.

That would bring FEMA’s total balance up to roughly $35 billion. Of those existing FEMA funds, $2.5 billion would be directed to victims of this spring’s Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in New Mexico, and it’s possible the disaster relief fund could need replenishing when lawmakers reconvene in November. Longer-term recovery funds would have to come from other agencies, like HUD and the Army Corps of Engineers.

With their state hammered by Ian, GOP Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott wrote to Senate Appropriations leaders Friday seeking an additional supplemental funding bill, both for their state and Puerto Rico, which was slammed by Hurricane Fiona. 

The measure also contains a variety of expiring program extensions, mostly for the duration of the CR although the measure would extend core FDA user fee programs for five years. Short-term extensions range from mandatory livestock price reporting to Federal Communications Commission spectrum auction authority to the National Flood Insurance Program.

Roadblocks removed

The biggest roadblock to getting the continuing resolution done on time, Sen. Joe Manchin III’s, D-W.Va.’s permitting legislation, was dropped in the Senate earlier this week. Over 80 House Democrats had called for that effort to be separated from the must-pass government spending bill.  

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer had promised Manchin a vote on his legislation by the end of September during negotiations for the Democrats’ climate, tax and health care law. Manchin asked Schumer to pull the legislation from the continuing resolution Monday when it became clear he did not have the 60 votes necessary to pass it amid bipartisan opposition.  

After the stopgap measure advanced in the Senate with 72 votes on a procedural motion earlier in the week, it became clear it was only a matter of time before final passage. However, with any senator able to drag things out by objecting to a time agreement, any senator can potentially extract concessions in exchange for agreement to speed things up.

That’s exactly what Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, did. He won a commitment from Biden hours before the Senate vote Thursday that FEMA would pick up 100 percent of the tab for damages related to Typhoon Merbok, which slammed into Sullivan’s home state.

And sometimes it’s as simple as arranging the right to speak on the floor. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., held out until he won 10 minutes to talk about his efforts to expedite processes for considering constitutional amendments for balanced budgets and congressional term limits.

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