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Fiscal 2024 spending finale starts to take shape

Initial package ekes out slim spending boost, strikes most GOP-backed riders

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., participates in a GOP news conference on Thursday.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., participates in a GOP news conference on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House and Senate leaders rolled out a $467.5 billion, six-bill appropriations package Sunday afternoon, revealing where negotiators landed on a bevy of hot-button issues in final fiscal 2024 spending talks.

The package includes the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD measures. Lawmakers will try to pass the 1,050-page combo measure before the Friday at midnight deadline for four of the six bills under the most recent stopgap spending law. 

The Sunday afternoon release sets up a House vote as early as Wednesday afternoon under that chamber’s 72-hour rule, to give members a chance to review the legislation. The measure is being considered as an amendment to the initial House-passed Military Construction-VA bill, which the Senate passed later with amendments and sent back to the House.

Overall, programs funded by the six bills would see a $1.5 billion increase over fiscal 2023, or 0.3 percent. The Energy-Water and Transportation-HUD measures would get small increases, while the Agriculture bill is flat and the other three bills would see slight reductions.

However, the Department of Veterans Affairs received $20 billion in advance health care funding for veterans exposed to toxic substances in last year’s debt limit law, so comparable funding for Military Construction-VA programs would see a sizable increase over the prior year.

The Interior-Environment bill would see the largest percentage cut, at over 3 percent, largely due to EPA reductions.

Democrats heralded the $7 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, in the Agriculture bill as a major win in the negotiations.

“Forcing states to pick and choose which moms and kids will be able to access essential WIC benefits was never an acceptable outcome to Democrats, and this bill ensures that won’t happen by fully funding WIC for millions of families nationwide,” Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement accompanying the bill release. 

Democrats also highlighted limits on new policy riders Republicans secured, and funding for priorities including infrastructure and veterans health care. 

Republicans highlighted cuts in the Commerce-Justice Science bill to the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and to the EPA in the Interior-Environment bill, as big wins of their own in the legislation, along with gun-related policy riders. 

GOP negotiators said the package would reflect the first overall cut to nondefense, non-VA spending in almost a decade. For example, the Commerce-Justice-Science bill has an almost $2.5 billion, or 3 percent cut.

“House Republicans secured key conservative policy victories, rejected left-wing proposals, and imposed sharp cuts to agencies and programs critical to President Biden’s agenda,” Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said in a statement. 

But overall, the package included few of the arch-conservative policy riders that Republicans stocked the bills with during last summer’s rollout of that chamber’s versions, which House GOP leadership had vowed to fight for. 

And both parties got something to take home to their constituents in the form of home-state earmarks: 6,630 individual projects totaling $12.7 billion, CQ Roll Call found.

Republican priorities

House Republicans pointed to reductions to three major agencies as wins in the legislation, including a 7 percent cut to the ATF and a 6 percent cut to the FBI. 

The FBI’s construction account is facing a whopping $621.9 million, or 95 percent, cut, according to a GOP summary, as the agency faces criticism from Republicans for its investigations of former President Donald Trump. 

Republicans also heralded a 10 percent cut to the EPA, though the cut is closer to 4 percent of base EPA appropriations. The rest of the cut stems from a 58 percent reduction to Superfund appropriations, which are transitioning back to mandatory spending and are projected to receive $3 billion in total in fiscal 2024. 

Robust funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration to fight fentanyl in the Commerce-Justice-Science bill and sizable funding for “hard” infrastructure in the Transportation-HUD measure were also House GOP priorities they achieved, House Republican leadership aides said. 

Republicans successfully secured a rider in the Military Construction-VA bill that would prevent the VA from automatically sending veterans’ names to the Justice Department for a criminal background check if they ask for help managing their finances. 

Another rider that House Republicans highlighted would prohibit the FBI and DOJ from reviewing the activities of school boards, which is in the Commerce-Justice-Science bill. 

Senate Appropriations ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the bill supports “America’s veterans, servicemembers, farmers and rural areas” and would improve “infrastructure, energy independence, and housing and workforce opportunities.” 

Democratic priorities

The $7 billion for WIC is a $1 billion increase over the fiscal 2023 enacted level, meeting the requested level identified late in the appropriations process by the Biden administration.

Democrats also successfully kept out of the legislation a pilot program that House Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., was pushing that would have restricted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients from purchasing unhealthy food.

“Throughout the negotiations, Democrats fought hard to protect against cuts to housing and nutrition programs, and keep out harmful provisions that would further restrict access to women’s health, or roll back the progress we’ve made to fight climate change,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. 

Democrats touted additional funds to hire new air traffic controllers and rail safety inspectors, and took credit for blocking “well over 100” Republican riders from inclusion in the bill, particularly efforts to restrict access to abortion, according to Murray.

“I am grateful that each of these bills rejects many of the extreme cuts and policies proposed by House Republicans and protects the great strides we made over the last two years to reverse the underinvestment in domestic programs that Americans depend on,” House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said. 

What’s next

Both chambers are expected to take up the bill this week, with the House likely to take it up under suspension of the rules, which has become commonplace for spending bills in the face of GOP opposition, including on the Rules Committee.

After passage of the first six bills, appropriators will turn to the next six, which include more challenging subject areas, like Homeland Security and Labor-HHS-Education. Appropriators are continuing to negotiate that second package, which will also feature the Defense, Financial Services, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations bills. 

The parties are “still in the midst of serious negotiations” on that package, House Republican aides said. 

Herb Jackson contributed to this report.

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