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Congress Averts a Government Shutdown, Sending a Short-term Funding Bill to Biden

Congress sent a short-term funding bill to President Joe Biden’s desk Thursday, averting a partial government shutdown this weekend and buying lawmakers more time to fund federal agencies through September.

The Senate passed the stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, on a 77-13 vote; 60 votes were needed for passage under an agreement between the parties. Earlier in the day, the legislation cleared the House on a 320-99 vote.

“It’s good we’re not shutting down. And now let us finish the job of funding the government so we don’t have to do this again,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said before the vote. “As I’ve said repeatedly to the speaker, the only way to get things done in divided government is bipartisanship. I’m glad the speaker heard our plea and worked with us to avoid a shutdown next week.” 

The CR is part of a broader bipartisan spending deal congressional leaders announced Wednesday that includes six of the 12 spending bills that fund federal agencies. The White House has endorsed the deal, and Biden is expected to sign the CR into law before money runs out for part of the government late Friday.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., had faced criticism from rank-and-file conservatives that they had been kept in the dark about his negotiations with the Democrats. But addressing reporters Thursday, Johnson argued that the bipartisan agreement allows Congress to fund the government by passing individual bills rather than one massive, catchall spending package, known as an omnibus.

“The appropriations process is ugly; democracy is ugly. This is the way it works every year; always has. Except that we instituted some innovations; we broke the omnibus fever,” Johnson said at his weekly news conference.

“We’re trying to turn the aircraft carrier back to real budgeting and spending reform,” he said. “This was an important thing — to break it up into smaller pieces.”

The new CR would extend the funding deadline for half of the dozen must-pass spending bills by one week, to March 8. Those six bills — to fund departments such as Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Interior, Justice, Transportation and Veterans Affairs — will be voted on next week, leaders said.

The funding deadline for the remaining six bills would be pushed back by two weeks, to March 22. Leaders say that should give Congress enough time to pass all of the spending bills for the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30.

The agreement “would help prevent a needless shutdown while providing more time to work on bipartisan appropriations bills and for the House to pass the bipartisan national security supplemental as quickly as possible,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

The Senate vote moved more quickly than usual Thursday after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a frequent critic of spending bills, secured a vote from leadership on his amendment to curtail the Federal Reserve’s power and agreed to speed consideration of the CR. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., dropped a hold on the CR after he got his own agreement to hold a vote on his bill to compensate victims of nuclear radiation.

Johnson said passing all of the fiscal 2024 bills would allow Congress to quickly begin negotiating the next round of appropriations bills for the new fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

But conservatives still lambasted the bipartisan deal for kicking the can down the road deeper into March and not making significant cuts in spending.

“It’s just more of the failures of the past continued on. The American people gave us control 14 months ago, and you still have the spending levels from the horrible omnibus that was passed at the end of ’22,” Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., the chairman of the far-right Freedom Caucus, told NBC News.

“Those spending levels are in place; those policies are in place,” he said. “We’ve made no measurable difference as a Republican majority.”

Neither the short-term bill nor the government funding deals include any military assistance or aid to Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine, the latter of which Johnson continues to resist. He has indicated that foreign aid will be tackled separately, without committing to allowing a vote on the Ukraine funding.

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