House Republicans on Thursday set the stage for another fiscal showdown with Democrats by approving a controversial set of spending targets for the coming fiscal year that mostly fall short of the levels set in the recent deal negotiated by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden.
The allocations for 2024 total about $1.47 trillion, or some $119 billion less than the spending caps in the Biden-McCarthy deal — and $130 billion less than current funding (see more details on the proposed funding totals here or here).
Dueling interpretations: Republicans hailed the spending levels as responsible and in line with the parameters of the debt limit deal, enacted as the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023. Democrats said that their GOP counterparts are reneging on their deal with the president to appease hardline conservatives who revolted over the debt limit compromise. And, Democrats warned, by pushing spending bills at these levels, Republicans are setting the stage for a government shutdown in the fall.
“While the Fiscal Responsibility Act set the topline spending limit, it does not require that we mark up our bills to that level,” Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger, a Texas Republican, said. “Simply put, the debt ceiling bill set a ceiling, not a floor, for Fiscal Year 2024 bills. The allocations before us reflect the change members on my side of the aisle want to see by returning spending to responsible levels.”
Democrats vehemently disagreed.
“Why did we try avoiding a default to make sure that America pays its bills with a topline spending agreement? What was it all for? Because now all we're engaging in is right-wing theater designed to jam extreme, painful cuts down the throats of the American people. And Democrats will not let it happen,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters. He added of Republicans: “They don't care about government. And so what we see right now, taking place in the appropriations process, is perhaps an effort by some extreme MAGA Republicans to drive us toward a government shutdown. And that’s a shame.”
A dustup in the markup: Thursday morning’s 33-27 party-line vote to approve subcommittee allocations for fiscal year 2024 came after a tense markup session Wednesday evening in which Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the appropriations panel, and Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the former House Majority Leader, castigated Republicans.
“These Republican allocations, secretly leaked to the press before they were shared with members of this committee, are a complete affront, an abrogation of the deal your speaker just reached with the president of the United States,” DeLauro said. “These allocations evince an agenda that will lead us back to gridlock. It appears that threatening a Republican default is insufficient and that the majority is now intent on driving a partisan appropriations process that will steer us into a prolonged continuing resolution at best, but more likely a government shutdown.”
Hoyer, who has been in Congress since 1981 and has reportedly served on the Appropriations Committee for 24 years, charged that roughly 20 Republicans are holding the rest of Congress hostage and forcing their own party members to go back on the deal they just approved. “What the hell is the point of making a deal if you’re then told, ‘Oh, well, that was the ceiling on the deal. What we really want is a lot less. Why? Because 20 people have us captive.”
How we got here: The deal to suspend the debt limit agreed to late last month by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy capped federal spending for the next two years. That deal was enacted in bipartisan fashion, but some Republican hardliners who objected to the process and the result effectively shut down the House floor in protest. Those rebels, who insisted that spending levels should be set at fiscal year 2022 levels, agreed this week to allow legislative action to resume after talks with McCarthy, who told reporters that he was open to writing spending bills at levels below the caps in his deal.
What’s next: Once again, McCarthy may have to decide whether to try to appease hardliners in his party or seek a deal with Democrats. Appropriators in the Senate, controlled by Democrats, are set to write their own spending bills to the $1.59 trillion caps in the Biden-McCarthy deal. The House and Senate will then have to try to reconcile their spending packages. “Senate appropriators are largely nonplussed about the House's decision to undercut the deal, acknowledging that the House and Senate were always going to have major differences to resolve on annual spending bills before federal cash expires Sept. 30,” Politico’s Caitlin Emma writes.
Why it matters: A shutdown could really be in the cards.