The House on Thursday overwhelmingly cleared a stopgap bill to extend government spending authority into March, which will avert a partial shutdown of federal agencies after Friday once President Joe Biden signs it.
Lawmakers in that chamber backed the legislation on a 314-108 vote hours after the Senate passed it on a similarly lopsided 77-18 vote.
Lawmakers stepped on the gas, moving up their scheduled votes to get the continuing resolution through Congress Thursday ahead of the expected winter storm coming Thursday night into Friday morning.
But the House vote underscored the challenge Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., faces in corralling his members. Johnson barely avoided losing a majority of the majority on his side, as Republicans split almost evenly on the measure with 107 backing it and 106 opposing.
The bill, which Biden is expected to sign, would extend funding for agencies covered by four appropriations bills that were set to lapse after Friday to March 1. Funding covered under the remaining eight bills that are poised to expire Feb. 2 would be extended to March 8.
Lawmakers are hoping that this will be the final stopgap spending measure needed for fiscal 2024, with two previous continuing resolutions already enacted.
Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., reached a $1.66 trillion topline agreement earlier this month. The defense category limit is more than 3 percent higher than the previous fiscal year’s, while nondefense spending would be held flat.
Appropriators are currently devising how that topline will be split among the twelve annual bills. Those talks between Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, have been taking place for the last week-and-a-half, and other appropriators are starting to get impatient waiting for their allocations.
Senate Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she believes there is time to finish fiscal 2024 appropriations by March if allocations are set next week. But she said is “very concerned” they are not yet done.
“I don’t understand why it has taken so long,” she said. “We’ve had the topline figure for a sufficient time now for the allocations to be worked out.”
Murray said before the stopgap vote that she has been working “nonstop with my colleagues in both chambers to keep this process moving as quickly as we possibly can so that we can write and pass the strongest possible funding bills.”
Murray and Granger are working “around the clock” on the subcommittee allocations with the goal to finish them as soon as possible, a Murray aide said.
Under an agreement Senate leaders reached in order to avoid procedural delays, final passage in that chamber required 60 votes. Before passage, the Senate voted down a Republican amendment and motion to send the bill back to committee.
On a 44-50 vote, senators rejected Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s amendment to prohibit federal assistance to governing entities in the West Bank and Gaza unless their leadership met stipulations including acknowledging Israel’s right to exist, renouncing Hamas and the Oct. 7 attacks and ensuring all hostages taken are released.
“That kind of barbarism cannot and should not be rewarded with American taxpayer dollars,” Paul said.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., argued against the amendment, saying it would cut off access to critical supplies like medicines for innocent Palestinians.
“Our ally Israel is at war with Hamas terrorists, not at war against the Palestinian people,” he said.
The Paul amendment had a 60-vote threshold for adoption.
The chamber had originally been set to vote on Indiana Sen. Mike Braun’s amendment to require the administration to estimate how executive orders would impact inflation, but senators wound up skipping that.
And the motion by Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., to send the legislation back to the Appropriations Committee with instructions to bring a full-year continuing resolution to the floor instead was defeated.
Under the debt limit suspension law enacted last year, a yearlong CR could result in up to $73 billion in nondefense spending cuts, according to the Congressional Budget Office. “This is the fiscally responsible decision that the American people deserve and Congress has an obligation to make,” Marshall said.
Most senators disagreed with Marshall, rejecting his motion on a 13-82 vote.
Speaker in the hot seat
With dozens on the right flank of the House Republican Conference opposed to any short-term spending measures, Johnson needed wide support from Democrats to reach the two-thirds level needed to pass the legislation under suspension of the rules. Democratic leaders urged their members to support the bill, helping to clear it by a comfortable margin.
House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., made the point during floor debate that future appropriations bills will also likely need to be considered under suspension, given the opposition of GOP conservatives to rules for floor debate on bills they don’t like.
Johnson is facing threats to his speakership from party hard-liners over his bipartisan deal-making, however, keeping a possible motion to vacate the position in their back pocket.
A group of conservatives huddled with Johnson in his office Thursday while the Senate was wrapping up its votes on the stopgap measure.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good, R-Va., said they pushed Johnson to amend the CR to add text of the partisan, House-passed border security package, though without language requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to confirm workers’ immigration status.
“It secures the border and it uses the funding mechanisms as an opportunity to do that,” Good said. “And it keeps the government open.”
But Johnson rejected such a move, which would force a shutdown with lawmakers in both chambers getting ready to leave town, and no appetite in the Senate for the House GOP border bill.
“The plan has not changed. The House is voting on the stop gap measure tonight to keep the government open,” Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, Raj Shah, said before the vote in a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
During floor debate, Good and a number of his colleagues spoke out against the stopgap bill.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has said putting a Senate-brokered immigration and Ukraine funding package on the floor would be the final straw for her. Others have cited Johnson’s acquiescence to continuation of spending levels and policies enacted in the last Congress under Democratic control.
“I always tell people back home beware of bipartisanship. The most bipartisan thing in Washington, D.C., is bankrupting our country, if not financially, morally,” Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, said during floor debate Thursday. “It’s not just the spending, it’s all the terrible policies that are attached to the spending.”
That could make the next few weeks critical for Johnson as the Senate continues to work on its border and supplemental war funding package, and as appropriators hammer out full-year spending bills that Democrats pledge won’t contain any controversial conservative policy riders.
“Once we put the threat of a shutdown behind us, I hope we continue seeing even more bipartisanship as appropriators complete the very important task of fully funding the government in coming weeks,” Schumer said on the floor Thursday.
Schumer added that “it is my goal for the Senate to move forward to the national security supplemental as soon as possible” after averting a shutdown.
“For the first time, I believe the odds are a little better than 50 percent that we can get something done” on the border and war-funding package, Schumer said.
David Lerman and Nina Heller contributed to this report.