Congress Sets Stage for Ugly Funding Fight

Congress Sets Stage for Ugly Funding Fight

Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA

As lawmakers face a September 30 deadline to avoid a shutdown and ultraconservative House Republicans set up a likely clash over funding the government, Senate appropriators on Wednesday announced plans to try to pass a package of three 2024 spending bills as soon as next week.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the panel, said in a joint statement that the first 2024 spending bills to be considered by the full Senate will be those covering military construction and Veterans Affairs; the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development; and Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

“This summer, we worked with our colleagues in a bipartisan way to draft and pass out of Committee all twelve appropriations bills for the first time in years—and did so with overwhelming bipartisan votes,” Murray and Collins said in the statement. “This is a critical next step as we continue working collaboratively in the Senate to keep our government funded, find common ground, and deliver for the people back home that we represent.”

Why it matters: The bipartisan approach Murray and Collins highlighted stands in contrast to the appropriations process in the House, where Republicans have clashed with Democrats and among themselves about the annual spending bills.

Congress is also considering a $44 billion White House request for supplemental funding, including disaster aid and money for Ukraine. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday urged lawmakers to provide more support for Ukraine, while other Republicans, especially in the House, oppose such additional aid or want to consider the elements of the supplemental funding request separately. “Since Putin’s escalation in Ukraine, President Biden has not been as decisive as many of us would have preferred,” McConnell said. “But this is no excuse for Congress to compound his administration’s failures with failures of our own.”

The Senate action on government funding will only add to the pressure on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who must contend with a disgruntled group of far-right members demanding spending cuts and policy concessions while threatening to oppose a short-term funding patch needed to avoid a shutdown at the end of the month.

“House Republicans are also hoping for floor action this month on their bills to fund the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and the State Department,” Politico notes. “But GOP leaders are certain to struggle, with their conference deeply divided by fiscal issues and conservatives pushing for even steeper spending cuts.”

Some GOP House members insist that they won’t support any funding bill that doesn’t authorize a Biden impeachment inquiry — and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida this week said that Republicans should force votes on a Biden impeachment. “If Speaker McCarthy stands in our way, he may not have the job long,” Gaetz said.

The bottom line: Any bipartisan deal to fund the government for fiscal year 2024 remains a long way away and a short-term spending patch to avert a shutdown on October 1 also faces challenges. “McCarthy is trying to buy more time beyond Sept. 30 to clear unrealistic House GOP-drafted spending measures,” Punchbowl News said Wednesday morning. “Meanwhile, McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — along with senators on both sides of the aisle — are looking to keep the spending measures clean, tidy and bipartisan. … After just one day in session following the lengthy 40-day August recess, it’s clear that McCarthy’s conference is going to struggle mightily to extract any of its legislative priorities from the Senate or the White House.”

That adds up to a potentially ugly battle ahead.