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House to return next week as GOP expects spending bills to pass

Chamber is scheduled to reconvene Wednesday, two days before first deadline

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Feb. 14.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., leaves a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Feb. 14. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House GOP leaders are full steam ahead on bringing final appropriations bills to the floor by next Friday’s deadline, telling their members on a conference call late Friday that they expect to be able to take some wins back to constituents while avoiding a partial government shutdown.

Speaker Mike Johnson and GOP leaders had discussed the possibility of not coming back to Washington next week, at least until there is a spending deal to put on the floor, according to sources familiar with the planning. Members would have been on call to return to the Capitol with 24 hours’ notice before any votes were scheduled on an agreement negotiated between leaders in both chambers.

But the mere possibility that the House wouldn’t return next week raised more questions about lawmakers’ ability to avoid a partial government shutdown starting March 2, after next week’s deadline for four of the 12 annual bills. And late Friday, GOP leaders confirmed the original plan to be in session Wednesday through Friday when Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., put out his weekly schedule. 

The chamber will take up a two-month extension of Federal Aviation Administration authorities expiring on March 8 next week under suspension of the rules, Scalise reported. But it was notable that no specific spending bills were listed on the calendar, only this: “Additional legislative items related to FY 2024 appropriations are expected.”

Talks have been moving slowly on key issues that were kicked up to leadership to decide, despite progress in negotiations between House and Senate appropriators on much of the bills’ substance.

Leadership had hoped to make some kind of announcement on appropriations Sunday night, though House sources earlier downplayed expectations that an agreement will be reached by then. Instead, some sources said if there is an agreement, the legislation could be posted as early as Monday evening or Tuesday morning.

Rank-and-file lawmakers have largely been in the dark on the status of negotiations. House Republicans heard from Johnson, R-La., during the Friday night conference call on the state of play, according to sources familiar with the discussion.

Lawmakers need to pass either full-year fiscal 2024 appropriations or another short-term stopgap measure by the end of the day March 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown affecting agencies covered by the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD bills. 

On Friday night’s call, Johnson expressed cautious optimism that Congress would meet the first deadline on at least some of the spending bills. But he didn’t promise which ones would be in the first package, sources said. And a short extension might be needed to buy more time for bills that aren’t ready by then.

Appropriators have been waiting on decisions on policy riders from Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., which could allow them to move forward on the first package of bills.

Republicans have been pushing for a variety of provisions on hot-button topics like guns, abortion and diversity initiatives that Democrats say they won’t accept. On Friday night’s call, Johnson made the point that Republicans will secure some victories in the bills.

The second tranche, which includes the remaining eight spending bills, includes more contentious policy areas that could be harder to figure out ahead of the March 8 deadline. Sources said among those final eight bills, negotiators have made a lot of progress on, and are closer to wrapping up, the Interior-Environment and Defense measures.

Lawmakers are considering a stopgap spending measure for some, if not all, of the bills to March 22, which would give appropriators more time to work out the remaining issues, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. 

On Friday night’s call, GOP leaders raised the possibility that some of the bills with a March 8 expiration date, but which are actually closer to being completed, might shift up into the first batch due next week, sources said.

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