With Short-Term Spending Bill Done, Congress Faces a New Deadline

With Short-Term Spending Bill Done, Congress Faces a New Deadline

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

The Senate crossed a couple of big items off its year-end to-do list Thursday night, passing the annual defense policy bill and a stopgap measure to extend federal funding for one week and avert a government shutdown early Saturday.

The 71-to-19 vote buy congressional negotiators more time to finalize a roughly $1.7 trillion spending plan, known as an omnibus, that would fund the government through September.

“Next week hopefully we’ll finish the job, passing a package that will keep the government fully funded until next fall,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the chamber floor. “Nobody will get everything they want, but the final product will include wins everyone can get behind, including passing the Electoral Count Act, emergency aid for Ukraine and funding for our kids, our veterans, our small businesses and our military families. No drama, no gridlock, no government shutdown this week. It’s a win for the American people.”

The House had approved the short-term spending bill on Wednesday and President Joe Biden signed it into law on Friday.

The sprawling defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, calls for $858 billion in military and national security spending for fiscal year 2023. The total includes $847 billion in defense funding, or $45 billion more than Biden sought in his budget request, with $817 billion going to the Pentagon and $30 billion to the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs. Another $11 billion will go to accounts outside the jurisdiction of the congressional Armed Service committees. Nearly $19 billion of the total is meant to account for the impact of inflation on military purchases and construction projects. See more about what’s in the bill here.

The NDAA, passed by an 83-11 vote in the Senate after clearing the House in bipartisan fashion last week, would also repeal the mandate requiring active-duty military troops to get vaccinated against Covid-19, a change that the White House and Pentagon oppose. There’s no sign that Biden might veto the bill, though.

What’s next: The appropriators negotiating the omnibus spending bill have shared few details about the legislation ahead of an expected release on Monday or Tuesday. The package, combining 12 annual appropriations measures, will likely be thousands of pages long and contain thousands of earmarks. It will require at least 10 Republican votes to clear the Senate and could face some challenges from lawmakers opposed to certain details or to the speed with which they’re expected to sign off on such a huge spending package. “I don’t know why any Republican, let alone 10, would want to help them do that in those circumstances,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said earlier in the week.

House Republicans led by Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California had preferred to hold off on the funding bill until after they assumed control of the chamber next year and could exercise some leverage to cut spending. Lee had put forth an amendment to the stopgap funding bill in the Senate that would have extended federal funding until March, but it was voted down. “Senate Republicans don’t want to punt the issue into the new year when they fear McCarthy could control the House but can’t control his members,” Politico reported Friday. “Few say it out loud, but most Republicans know that clearing an omnibus now is a political gift to McCarthy.”

The bottom line: Next week will be a doozy. Congress will again face a deadline to enact funding legislation, with a potential shutdown in the offing if they fail to secure enough bipartisan support for the full-year spending package. The looming holiday will likely provide plenty of motivation to wrap things up, though. “Sometimes, miraculously, everything comes together because people want to go home,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told Politico this week. That’ll be even more true with Christmas just a few days away.