Congress Races to Pass $1.2 Trillion in Spending before Shutdown Deadline

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
The U.S. Capitol earlier this month.

Congress is staring down a fast-approaching government shutdown deadline, as lawmakers prepare to vote Friday morning on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan spending package to fund the federal government for the next six months.

Support for the bill is hardly in doubt. President Biden, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) all back it, and it’s expected to pass with wide bipartisan majorities in both chambers. But negotiators spent so much time in talks to finalize the legislation that lawmakers could bumble into a brief partial shutdown if they can’t finish working before 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

The House is expected to vote on the measure, which rolls six annual spending bills together to fund roughly three-quarters of the government, as soon as 11 a.m. Friday. But that leaves the usually more plodding Senate just hours to take its vote, and any one senator can throw up procedural roadblocks that would push the government past the shutdown deadline.

The consequences of a brief weekend shutdown would be mostly muted: Many federal workers at unfunded agencies would be off for the weekend anyway. But if a closure goes longer, more than half of IRS employees would face furloughs at the height of tax filing season. Border Patrol officers and about 1.3 million active-duty military service members would remain on the job without pay. So would Transportation Security Administration screeners, many of whom called in sick as a protest after a previous shutdown dragged on for weeks, sparking nationwide travel delays.

“This funding agreement between the White House and congressional leaders is good news that comes in the nick of time: When passed it will extinguish any more shutdown threats for the rest of the fiscal year, it will avoid the scythe of budget sequestration, and it will keep the government open without cuts or poison pill riders,” Schumer said Thursday on the Senate floor. “It is now the job of the House Republican leadership to move this package ASAP.”

Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Bill Hagerty (Tenn.) have already signaled they are likely to offer amendments and attempt to slow the Senate’s consideration of the bill. If the upper chamber cannot reach unanimous consent on how much time to spend on those amendments before a vote Friday, Schumer would probably have to tee up a vote for Sunday or even Monday instead, because of Senate procedural rules.

Congress passed, and Biden signed, another set of six bills this month worth $459 billion to fund the rest of the government.

But congressional staffers were up until 3 a.m. Thursday preparing the legislation for this new tranche of bills. And Johnson is bucking the House’s rules to enable a quick-fire vote, further enraging the House Freedom Caucus on the right flank of the GOP conference, which is already raising the alarm over spending levels.

“Speakers, plural, don’t seem to be able to get it right,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), one of the group’s leading spending hawks, said Thursday. “I think they get caught up with the process games of this place, especially with the Senate, and even with members in both parties. And that’s not what our country needs. Our country needs our speakers to actually lead and make the hard decisions and do things that are going to be tough in this town. But when you travel the country people are going to say, ‘Thank you for doing what was necessary.’ Everybody here assumes it’s always the end of the world. We got a lot of Chicken Little syndrome happens in Washington, D.C.”

Other Republicans more in line with Johnson, some still bruised from a lack of political success on earlier funding bills, celebrated conservative policy wins and spending cuts in the legislation.

Funding the Department of Homeland Security was the hardest part of the spending deal, as the White House and Johnson jostled over immigration policy and how to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

The bill would increase funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to support roughly 42,000 beds in detention facilities, and would fund 22,000 Border Patrol agents. It would also cut U.S. contributions by 20 percent to nongovernmental organizations that provide services for new arrivals to the country. Lawmakers who want to restrict immigration argue that the groups incentivize illegal crossings.

Republicans secured a 12-month prohibition on federal funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Israel has accused some of the agency’s employees of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks that killed some 1,200 Israelis and saw hundreds more brought back as hostages to the Gaza Strip by the terrorist group Hamas. A U.S. intelligence assessment has reportedly verified some of Israel’s claims about UNRWA.

Democrats said the bill would worsen the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“We cannot just witness people starving,” Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) said. “Posterity is going to ask: ‘What was wrong with them? They saw people starving, they saw people with their homes being destroyed, their hospitals destroyed and infrastructure destroyed and their babies being killed, and they did nothing?’ I don’t know how we can do this.”

The bill also includes a 6 percent cut to foreign aid programs, already a minuscule slice of federal spending, and a Republican change to the law prohibits nonofficial U.S. flags from flying atop American embassies. GOP lawmakers hope to use that provision, a slightly narrower version of what had previously been in place, to prevent Biden-nominated officials from displaying Pride flags at official locations at U.S. diplomatic outposts.

Democrats also claimed wins, by eliminating GOP attempts to limit abortion access and restrict the rights of LGBTQ Americans.

Some Democratic priorities also saw significant funding boosts, including $1 billion more for the early-education program Head Start and $1 billion for climate resilience funding at the Defense Department. The legislation also provides an additional 12,000 special immigrant visas for Afghans who assisted the U.S. military and are attempting to escape the Taliban government.

Lawmakers are already looking ahead to 2025 spending fights, even before the 2024 fiscal year is funded. Biden, in his State of the Union, called for major new investments in child care, elder care, affordable housing and education. But the GOP-controlled House Budget Committee passed a 2025 budget resolution this month that would limit access to social safety net programs, cut federal domestic discretionary spending and claw back much of the Biden administration’s agenda and regulations to fight climate change.

The Republican Study Committee, the House GOP’s largest caucus, representing a supermajority of Republican members, released a budget Wednesday that went further. The group suggested raising the Social Security retirement age – though it did not suggest a new age from the current 67 – eliminating certain health-care subsidies in the Affordable Care Act and aggressively restricting access to in vitro fertilization, or IVF.