Congressional leaders come out with 6 spending bills in a drive to avoid a partial shutdown


WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional leaders on Sunday came out with a package of six bills setting full-year spending levels for some federal agencies, a step forward in a long overdue funding process beset by sharp political divisions between the two parties as well as infighting among House Republicans.

The release of the text of legislation over the weekend was designed to meet the House’s rule to give lawmakers at least 72 hours to study a bill before voting. And it’s a promising sign that lawmakers will avoid a partial shutdown that would kick in at 12:01 a.m. Saturday for those agencies covered under the bill, such as Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Transportation, Justice and others.

Congressional leaders hope to complete votes on the package this week and continue negotiations on the remaining six annual spending bills to pass them before a March 22 deadline. The price tag for the package out Sunday comes to about $460 billion, representing less than 30% of the discretionary spending Congress looks to approve for this year. The package still being negotiated includes defense spending.

House Speaker Mike Johnson highlighted some key policy and spending wins for conservatives, even as many of his GOP colleagues consider the changes inadequate. Some House Republicans had hoped the prospect of a shutdown could leverage more concessions from Democrats.

Overall, this year’s spending bills would keep non-defense spending relatively flat with last year’s bill, despite the rise in inflation, and some $70 billion less than what President Joe Biden originally sought.

“House Republicans secured key conservative policy victories, rejected left-wing proposals, and imposed sharp cuts to agencies and programs critical to President Biden’s agenda,” Johnson said in a prepared statement.

Earlier this year, Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced an agreement on the top-line spending levels for this year’s discretionary spending, which comes to more than $1.6 trillion. But that agreement didn’t address potential policy mandates placed within the bills. That’s where negotiations have focused in recent weeks.

Democrats staved off most of the policy riders that House Republicans sought to include. For example, they beat back an effort to reverse the FDA’s decision that allows the abortion pill mifepristone to be sold in retail pharmacies, instead of only in hospitals, clinics and medical offices. Democrats also said the bill would fully fund a nutrition program for low-income women, infants and children known as WIC, providing about $7 billion for the program, a $1 billion increase from the previous year.

Throughout the negotiations, Democrats fought hard to protect against cuts to housing and nutrition programs, and keep out harmful provisions that would further restrict access to women’s health, or roll back the progress we’ve made to fight climate change,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in support of the legislation.

House Republicans were able to achieve some policy wins, however. One provision, for example, will prevent the sale of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China.

Another provision strengthens gun rights for certain veterans. Under current law, the VA must send a beneficiary’s name to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System whenever a fiduciary is appointed to help manage someone’s benefits. This year’s spending package prohibits the VA from transmitting that information unless a relevant judicial authority rules that the beneficiary is a danger to himself or herself, or others.

Still, some of the more conservative members of the House GOP have been critical of the spending bills, and many voted against the short-term extension Congress passed last week that avoided a shutdown and allowed negotiations to continue.

“We all promised we wouldn’t do this crap when we got up here,” Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Mo., said as the short-term extension was debated. “The American people have demanded responsible spending and border security for years, but we fail them. When will we heed the calls of our constituents to rein in the wasteful spending, secure the borders, and defeat the bureaucracy targeting them?”

The short-term extension last week was the fourth in recent months. The vote to approve it was 320-99, but House Republicans were divided, with 113 in support and 97 against. The Senate approved the extension, 77-13.

The votes being teed up on spending bills come five months after the budget year began.



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