Short-term government funding bill passes House, heads to Senate
Washington — The House approved a short-term measure Wednesday night that extends funding for federal agencies for one week, giving Congress additional time to finish crafting a massive longer-term spending package. The vote was 224-201, with nine Republicans joining Democrats.
House Democrats unveiled the text of the bill, known as a continuing resolution, on Tuesday, amid bicameral, bipartisan efforts to reach consensus on the broader proposal to fund the U.S. government through most of 2023. House and Senate negotiators had announced Tuesday night that they had agreed to a framework that provides a path to negotiate the final details of the roughly $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package.
The current stopgap funding measure expires Dec. 16, and lawmakers must act before then to stave off a partial government shutdown. Republican leaders in the House urged their members to vote against the legislation, calling it an "attempt to buy additional time for a massive lame-duck spending bill in which House Republicans have had no seat at the negotiating table."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Congress needs to pass the temporary funding bill "ASAP," and noted the Senate should be prepared to "act quickly" after House passage.
Approving legislation that keeps federal agencies operating is one of the must-pass items on Congress' legislative to-do list before the end of the year. House and Senate Appropriations leaders from both parties have urged the adoption of the package funding the government through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, and have expressed optimism toward reaching a deal on the legislation.
Schumer cheered the announcement that negotiators coalesced around the framework, saying in remarks on the Senate floor it was "welcome and important news."
"Congress now has a roadmap for funding the government before the conclusion of the 117th Congress, something the large majority of us want to see," he said. "We still have a long way to go, but a framework is a big step in the right direction."
Schumer said the year-long package will ensure bills approved by Congress this year, such as a plan to boost domestic production of semiconductor chips and a law that extends health care benefits to veterans who developed illnesses because of their exposure to toxic substances from burn pits on U.S. military bases, are funded and implemented.
"A CR will not fund these bills, but an omnibus agreement will, and they were all bipartisan with large support from both sides of the aisle," he said.
The details of the framework for the omnibus spending package were not announced, but the two sides have been at odds over domestic spending levels for the next fiscal year. Republicans have been opposed to boosting spending for domestic programs, citing increases through other laws enacted this year such as Democrats' sweeping climate, health care and tax package. GOP negotiators have also been pushing for defense spending to match the $858 billion set in a defense policy bill approved by the House last week.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated Tuesday the omnibus spending package would meet the funding level set in the defense authorization bill, and said he believed negotiators were getting "very close" to a long-term measure that would be "broadly appealing."
Still, he set a deadline of Dec. 22 for Congress to pass the legislative package, as Republicans did not plan on returning to Washington between Christmas and New Year's. If lawmakers fail to pass the sweeping plan, McConnell said Republicans would be "happy" to pass another short-term bill that funds the government into early 2023.
McConnell also warned Democrats on Wednesday not to stray from the framework and add provisions to the omnibus package that would drive away Republican support.
"It will take seriousness and good faith on both sides to produce actual legislation that follows the framework," he said on the Senate floor. "Poison pills, especially far-left demands to overturn longstanding and commonsense policy riders, will need to stay away from the process. And even then the calendar will still make this a challenging sprint."
With Republicans poised to take over the House in the next Congress, Democrats are working to get the omnibus plan across the finish line to avoid GOP lawmakers cutting some of President Biden's priorities from a package.
The president has asked lawmakers to provide nearly $40 billion for Ukraine in the war against Russia and $10 billion to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and other infectious diseases. Schumer has pledged to include emergency aid to Ukraine in an omnibus package, as well as legislation reforming the Electoral Count Act.
"If we can come to an agreement on an omnibus, I am optimistic that these bills, which are so important to Democrats and Republicans alike — the ECA and funding for Ukraine — can become law," he said.
But some House Republicans have expressed opposition to approving more money for Ukraine, making it uncertain whether a GOP-led House would pass a funding bill that included emergency assistance for the country. GOP lawmakers have also long been opposed to more pandemic-related funding.
Still, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican appropriator in the Senate, suggested in a statement he believes the framework agreement reached Tuesday night would allow Congress to meet McConnell's timeline.
"If all goes well, we should be able to finish an omnibus appropriations package by December 23rd," he said.
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