Dems Warn GOP: No Poison Pills in Spending Bills

Dems Warn GOP: No Poison Pills in Spending Bills

Johnson will be in the spotlight next week.
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Friday, February 23, 2024

Happy Friday! Here’s what you need to know ahead of next week.

Johnson Faces Dilemma as Shutdown Deadline Approaches

Congress will return to Washington next week with just days to go before the first of two deadlines to fund the government and keep agencies operating.

As the March 1 and March 8 deadlines draw near, Republicans reportedly remain divided over their strategy for the spending bills — and a group of key House Democrats is reportedly warning Speaker Mike Johnson and the other congressional leaders to steer clear of the divisive “poison pill” policy riders that House Freedom Caucus conservatives have sought.

“We are extremely concerned that the House Republican Leadership continues to advocate for policy riders that have been shown time and time again to be unpopular with the American people and obstacles to completing the appropriations process,” 14 House Democrats wrote in a Friday letter to congressional leaders. “Clean funding bills – free of contentious poison pill riders that members of both parties oppose – represent the best path forward as we work to fulfill our duty to the American people to keep the federal government running.”

The letter also called for keeping non-defense discretionary spending at the $773 billion level agreed to last month by Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The Democrats’ letter, first reported by Axios, comes after 28 House Freedom Caucus conservatives on Wednesday sent their own letter to Johnson seeking details on the status of the appropriations talks and more than 20 of their desired policy provisions, including ones related to abortion, guns, diversity initiatives and border security. The list includes a proposal to cut Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ salary to $0 and another to defund organizations such as the World Health Organization and World Economic Forum.

The conservatives’ letter warned that failing to eliminate funding for programs and personnel that Republicans oppose will reduce the probability that a majority of the GOP majority will support the appropriations bills.

They added: “If we are not going to secure significant policy changes or even keep spending below the caps adopted by bipartisan majorities less than one year ago, why would we proceed when we could instead pass a year-long funding resolution that would save Americans $100 billion in year one?”

The year-long funding bill conservatives mentioned would trigger across-the-board 1% spending cuts under the terms of last year’s Fiscal Responsibility Act, the bipartisan deal to raise the debt limit.

But defense hawks oppose such sweeping cuts, adding to the GOP divisions over the funding plans. “A 1% cut to defense won’t fly. The current proposal didn’t keep up with inflation as it is, and the military is decreasing the number of F-35s and attack submarines they’re buying,” Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska told Semafor.

All eyes on Johnson: After agreeing to a $1.66 trillion discretionary spending topline last month, Johnson must decide how he wants to approach this funding deadline, knowing that Democratic votes will be needed to enact any spending bill and avoid a shutdown. Will he push ahead with a bipartisan deal, even if it could mean a right-wing push to oust him? Will he press for conservative positions, even if means a politically damaging shutdown? Will he pursue a full-year stopgap as a fallback that conservatives would accept?

“I’m worried. Of all the scares we’ve had since the last fiscal year, I think this is going to be the scariest. I think we could be in a world of hurt,” one unnamed Senate GOP aide told The Hill. “I don’t know if it’ll be a partial or a full, but I think the chances of a shutdown are the highest we’ve had this fiscal year.”

What’s next: A spending deal could be announced by negotiators as soon as Sunday, with many on Capitol Hill expecting that another stopgap spending bill — the fourth for fiscal year 2024 — will still be needed to avert a shutdown and buy time for the annual appropriations bills to be passed.

Biden Urges House Republicans to Take Up National Security Bill

President Joe Biden on Friday slammed House Republicans for sitting on a $95.3 billion national security bill passed by the Senate and called on them to deliver urgently needed aid to Ukraine.

“Let me be clear: The House of Representatives must pass the bipartisan national security bill,” Biden told a meeting of state governors at the White House. “The bill provides urgent funding for Ukraine and it passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and there’s no question — none, none — if the speaker called for a vote in the House, it would pass easily today. Instead, they went on vacation.”

Warning that “history is watching,” Biden noted that Russia is on the offensive in Ukraine once again, taking territory for the first time in months. “But here in America, the speaker gave the House a two-week vacation,” Biden said. “They have to come back. They have to come back and get this done. His failure to support Ukraine in this critical moment will never be forgotten in history. It will be measured, and it will have impact for decades to come.”

Biden also called on Republicans to work with him to address the crisis on the border with Mexico. Biden said the immigration system at the border is underfunded and in need of repair. “Over time, our laws and our resources haven’t kept up with our system and it’s broken,” he said. “And our politics has failed to fix it.”

Biden called a bipartisan deal that was brokered in the Senate but rejected by Republicans the “strongest border deal the country has ever seen.” He called on the governors to help him apply some political pressure to pass that deal, which includes money for states dealing with increased immigration. “If this matters to you, matters to your state, tell your members of Congress that are standing in the way, show a little spine,” Biden said. “Pass the bipartisan security bill, notwithstanding you may reap the wrath of one or more of your colleagues.”

Quote of the Day

“We have enough of committed people who are ready to put their lives in danger, but we can’t just waste our lives — we also need some means of support.”

A 31-year-old Ukrainian reconnaissance drone operator named Denys, as quoted by The Washington Post pleading with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for more U.S. aid. Schumer and four other senators visited Ukraine to meet with military leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. They also sought to ramp up pressure on House Speaker Mike Johnson to take up a Senate-passed $95.3 billion package that would deliver assistance to Ukraine. “The weight of history is on his shoulders,” Schumer told reporters of Johnson.

Number of the Day: 50

The Department of Defense has opened more than 50 investigations into potential fraud related to the delivery of U.S. aid to Ukraine. Pentagon Inspector General Robert Storch told reporters Thursday that investigators are looking into cases involving “procurement fraud, product substitution, theft, fraud or corruption, and diversion.” No allegations have been substantiated at this point, but “that may well change in the future,” he said.

Storch’s office has more than 200 people involved in the oversight of aid to Ukraine, including 28 investigators in Ukraine itself. Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio says the oversight effort, which includes personnel from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, is similar to the ones undertaken during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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