Congress sends stopgap spending bill to Biden’s desk, averting shutdown for now

By: - November 16, 2023 9:10 am

Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, said just before the stopgap spending bill passed that she’s already turned her attention to “what happens next.” Murray is shown speaking during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Nov. 8, 2023 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — U.S. senators voted 87-11 to approve legislation Wednesday that would fund the government into next year, clearing the measure for President Joe Biden’s signature.

The stopgap spending bill, sometimes called a continuing resolution or CR, would fund part of the government until mid-January and the rest of the programs within the annual appropriations process through early February. But many hurdles likely remain before a final deal is reached on full-year spending.

Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, said just before the bill passed that she’s already turned her attention to “what happens next.”

“Because avoiding a shutdown is so very far from mission accomplished,” Murray said. “We have a lot of work to do after the dust settles and before the next shutdown deadline comes up. Now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back.”

That conference process between the House and Senate, Murray said, will require “listening to the other side, making some tough decisions, leaving out partisan nonstarters and writing a bill that can actually pass into law.”

“That is going to make a difference for people we represent at home,” Murray said.

The House voted 336-95 to approve the stopgap legislation on Tuesday and Biden is expected to sign it before current funding expires Friday at midnight. House members abruptly canceled further votes and left D.C. for their Thanksgiving recess on Wednesday morning, after far-right members objected to advancing a different spending bill.

Florida’s Republican U.S. senators split their votes, with Marco Rubio voting aye and Rick Scott nay.

More time needed

The stopgap spending bill is intended to give the Republican House, Democratic Senate, and White House more time to reach agreement on the dozen full-year spending bills.

Congress was supposed to finish its work by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, but is relying on the stopgap spending bill to continue current funding levels until leaders a deal is negotiated.

Reaching agreement is a well-established practice for the four leaders of the Appropriations committees — Senate Chair Murray; Senate ranking member Susan Collins, a Maine Republican; House Chair Kay Granger, a Texas Republican; and House ranking member Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat.

The four lawmakers have years of experience working out bipartisan deals on spending bills as well as other legislation, but they all often caution against politics or outside influences meddling in those negotiations.

“Appropriators left to their own devices” can reach agreement, they often say.

But they rarely are left to do their work.

New faces in the talks

Sign-off on the final dozen full-year bills also falls to the four congressional leaders.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, have plenty of experience negotiating spending bills and other consequential legislation with each other.

Joining them at the table this year will be newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, of New York.

Both are new to forging agreement on the annual appropriations bills, which last year totaled about $1.7 trillion.

Congress will have until Jan. 19 to come to find compromise on the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA, and Transportation-HUD spending bills.

They’ll have until Feb. 2 to reach a deal on the Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch, and State-Foreign Operations appropriations bills.

The Senate drafted its dozen spending bills to the total spending levels in the debt limit law that Congress approved this summer. But House Republicans wrote their bills more than $100 billion below those levels and added in dozens of hot-button policy proposals that stand no chance of becoming law.

Collins said Wednesday that she met with Johnson last week to talk about total funding levels and the supplemental spending package that Congress could pass in the coming weeks to fund Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, and U.S. border security.

Ultimately, she said, congressional leaders will be the ones who decide whether to stick to the spending levels in the debt limit law or go in a different direction.

“To me, it should be guided by the numbers in the [Fiscal Responsibility Act], plus the side agreement that was worked out between Speaker McCarthy and President Biden,” Collins said, referring to the debt limit deal from earlier this year and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

In the meantime, she suggested, the Senate could take up a four-bill spending package that includes the Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water, Defense, and Labor-HHS-Education spending bills.

“That might be a good four-bill package that we could bring,” Collins said.

A senior appropriator, speaking on background, said Wednesday that a proposal was circulating that would have the Senate turn to that exact four-bill spending package once it gets back from the Thanksgiving recess.

The Senate has approved a three-bill package with a broadly bipartisan vote and the House has approved seven without Democrats’ support.

House exit

The House was set to vote on two additional spending bills this week, but Republican leaders announced late Wednesday morning the chamber was done until after the Thanksgiving break.

The canceled votes came after the House was unable to adopt the rule that would have set up debate on the Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill, amid anger on the stopgap spending bill from far-right members of the party.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune, of South Dakota, said Wednesday it will be difficult to work out agreements between the two chambers on the dozen appropriations bills before the new deadlines.

“One of the biggest challenges, obviously, is there’s a difference in numbers between the House and the Senate,” Thune said, noting the two chambers will have to deal with that when they begin the conference process.

“And I think we have to give that a chance,” Thune said. “You’ve got a new speaker over there. It seems like people want to cooperate a bit, so let’s see if they can move bills.”

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

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