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National News

Congress struggles to finish work on spending bills as another Friday deadline nears

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Jennifer Shutt, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 20, 2024

WASHINGTON — Congressional staff were scrambling Wednesday to finalize sweeping legislation that would fund much of the federal government, but time was running short ahead of a Friday midnight deadline.

Leaders of the House and Senate and the Biden administration announced Tuesday they’d reached consensus on the final six government funding bills for the fiscal year that began back on Oct. 1. But neither chamber can vote on the agreement until the text of the package — which includes billions in crucial funding for health, defense, immigration and much more — is finished and released.

Lawmakers may need to pass another short-term stopgap spending bill, sometimes called a continuing resolution, or CR, to avoid a funding lapse when the current funding patch expires just as Saturday begins.

“We don’t yet know precisely when the House will act, but as soon as they send us the funding package I will put it on the Senate floor,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday morning.

“And from there — as we all know — it will take cooperation to get on the bill and consent from every senator to keep this process moving quickly.”

The New York Democrat said that even if senators from both political parties move with purpose, “it’s going to be a tight squeeze to get this funding package passed before the weekend deadline.”

Schumer asked senators “to be flexible, to be prepared to act quickly and to prioritize working together in good faith, so we can finish the appropriations process.”

If senators act in the same manner they did earlier this month when the Senate approved the other six spending bills just hours before their deadline, Schumer said, “the odds are good we can get this done without excessive delay or headaches.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson said during a press conference Wednesday morning that he expected the text of the legislation to come out later in the day.

The Louisiana Republican said he hoped that chamber would be able to wrap up work before the deadline Friday and predicted Congress wouldn’t need to pass another stopgap spending bill to avoid a weekend funding lapse.

“We should have the bill text, hopefully, by this afternoon,” Johnson said.

Deadline after deadline

Congress has been pushing off its deadline to wrap up work on the dozen annual appropriations bills since the start of fiscal year 2024 last autumn, using a series of CRs to keep funding flat with a few exceptions.

Lawmakers were able to reach a bipartisan agreement on six of the spending bills in early March, quickly holding broadly bipartisan votes to approve the package in the House and Senate.

Once lawmakers approve the final six spending bills and President Joe Biden signs the package, both chambers of Congress will likely begin work in earnest on the fiscal 2025 process ahead of their next Oct. 1 deadline.

Biden submitted his budget request earlier this month, which was followed by White House budget director Shalanda Young testifying in front of the Senate Budget Committee on the proposal.

The House Appropriations Committee began hearings this week with Cabinet secretaries and agency heads on their funding requests for the next round of appropriations bills. The Senate panel will likely begin those hearings in the coming weeks.

Overseas assistance

The House will also turn its attention toward approving emergency assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan in some form after wrapping up work on the current appropriations process, Johnson said Wednesday during his press conference.

“We had to get the approps done first and having done that now we’ll turn our attention to it. And we won’t delay on that,” he said.

Johnson didn’t say exactly what form aid would take or how much funding a House bill would provide, but did say there are a “a number of avenues” that Republicans have been considering.

“We’re talking about the whole supplemental and all of these pieces — whether they’d go individually or as a package — all of those things are being debated and discussed,” Johnson said.

There are ongoing conversations among House GOP lawmakers about possibly using seized Russian assets and a loan to provide Ukraine with additional assistance, Johnson said.

The Senate in February approved a broadly bipartisan bill to provide Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with $96 billion in emergency spending. Much of that money would flow through the U.S. government, including for the departments of Defense and State.

House Republicans, however, are having a debate about the difference between providing military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, Johnson said.

“Internally, I think there is a big distinction in the minds of a lot of people between lethal aid for Ukraine and the humanitarian component,” he said.

Johnson, who has been noncommittal publicly about whether the House would ever take up assistance to Ukraine, seemed to shift somewhat to supporting the idea of aid, even if he didn’t comment specifically on the substance.

“We understand the role that America plays in the world. We understand the importance of sending a strong signal to the world that we stand by our allies,” Johnson said. “And we cannot allow terrorists and tyrants to march through the globe.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.