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Congress passes stopgap spending measure to dodge Friday shutdown threat

Congress is set to approve a short-term spending bill to keep the government funded until early March. The goal is to allow lawmakers to finish work on long-term spending bills.
Catie Dull
/
NPR
Congress is set to approve a short-term spending bill to keep the government funded until early March. The goal is to allow lawmakers to finish work on long-term spending bills.

Updated January 18, 2024 at 5:06 PM ET

The House and the Senate have both approved a stopgap spending bill to fund the government through early March. The bill now heads to President Biden's desk for a signature.

With some federal agencies, including those that oversee agriculture, transportation and veterans' services, set to run out of funding Friday night at midnight and a winter storm toward the nation's capitol, lawmakers were under pressure to finish their work and leave town. The new spending measure maintains a two-tier structure where some agencies would run out of money on March 1 and others would remain funded through March 8.

The measure is the latest in a series of short-term measures meant to buy lawmakers time to do the more arduous work of drafting and advancing the full suite of 12 annual government spending bills, which have so far been waylaid in large part because of internal disagreements among the wafer-thin House Republican majority.

Why Congress is relying on short-term funding measures

After weeks of insisting he would reject any stop-gap measures, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., agreed to give lawmakers more time to draft legislation to fund the government through the end of September, when the fiscal year ends.

Johnson has insisted the extension will give him time to pursue conservative policies in the longer-term spending bills.

"Because the completion deadlines are upon us, a short continuing resolution is required to complete what House Republicans are working hard to achieve: an end to governance by omnibus, meaningful policy wins, and better stewardship of American tax dollars," Johnson said in a statement this week.

But any spending bills will need bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled Senate and the signature of President Biden. That makes prospects slim for any major policy changes.

Far-right members of the House Freedom Caucus have pushed for a harder-line, anti-compromise approach: refusing any deal that doesn't contain major party priorities like steep spending cuts and conservative immigration reform proposals — even if those measures are essentially guaranteed to be dead-on-arrival in the Senate.

That dispute has forced Johnson to rely on Democratic votes to keep the government open in December — and he did so again Thursday. The House has voted 314-108 to approve the stopgap spending bill; Democrats provided the majority of the votes.

Hardliners have — so far — had more success limiting Ukraine aid and immigration reform

Senate negotiators have also continued to work on a plan to pair new border security policies with military aid for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific.

Senators Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; James Lankford, R-Okla.; and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., have been negotiating a deal for weeks alongside representatives from the administration.

Senate leadership from both parties, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have both expressed their support for the effort. And while that proposal could pass the Senate as early as next week, it faces a much tougher path in the House.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with the administration and other lawmakers at the White House Wednesday, Johnson emphasized how important immigration reform was to House Republicans.

"We understand that there's concern about the safety, security, sovereignty of Ukraine," Johnson said, "but the American people have those same concerns about our own domestic sovereignty and our safety."

While the speaker has so far been willing to ignore internal pushback from House Republicans over government funding, his comments on immigration have largely mirrored those from members in his far-right flank.

"I have heard our speaker say, and members of our conference echo him when he says this, that the border is the hill to die on, that the border is the fight to have," Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said in a recent floor speech. "When members of leadership or members of our conference say that the border is the hill to die on, what are they prepared to do?"

Senate Republicans have repeatedly called on their House colleagues to take the best deal they can get rather than hold out for an apparent pipe dream.

"If we had a 100 percent Republican government – president, House, Senate – we probably wouldn't be able to get a single Democratic vote" on this immigration proposal, Mitch McConnell said Wednesday. "This is a unique opportunity to accomplish something in divided government that wouldn't be there in unified government."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.