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House passes government funding package in first step toward averting shutdown

Lawmakers unveil government funding package
Top lawmakers unveil funding package ahead of partial shutdown deadline 04:48

Washington — The House approved a major funding package on Wednesday, taking a significant step toward a longer-term solution to the spending saga that has stretched on for months.

Lawmakers voted 339 to 85 to approve the package of spending bills that extends funding for some federal agencies through September, surpassing the two-thirds majority needed. More Democrats than Republicans supported the measure, which now heads to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday that the upper chamber will move quickly on the funding package to avert a partial shutdown at week's end. 

"As soon as the House passes these appropriations bills and sends them to the Senate, I will put the bills on the floor so we can pass them and fund these six departments with time to spare before Friday's deadline," the New York Democrat said. 

Congressional leaders unveiled a six-bill spending package on Sunday, finalizing a bipartisan plan to fund the government that was unveiled last week. The package, which is the first of two to resolve the government funding issue, largely extends spending levels through the end of the fiscal year with some cuts, which Democrats accepted to stave off GOP policy changes. The agreement gave both parties something to tout.

Schumer celebrated the agreement, saying it "maintains the aggressive investments Democrats secured for American families, American workers, and America's national defense." He pointed to key wins for Democrats within the package, like the WIC nutrition program, along with investments in infrastructure and programs for veterans. 

Speaker Mike Johnson likewise touted the deal, saying that House Republicans "secured key conservative policy victories, rejected left-wing proposals, and imposed sharp cuts to agencies and programs" that he says are critical to President Biden's agenda, like the Environmental Protection Agency and the FBI.

The House voted under suspension of the rules on Wednesday due to ongoing opposition from some House conservatives. With a sharply divided and narrow GOP majority in the chamber, getting anything passed has proven to be a difficult task. Accordingly, Johnson had to seek the help of Democrats, since passage required the backing of two thirds of the House.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus came out in opposition to the funding package on Tuesday, saying in a statement that the text released so far "punts on nearly every single Republican policy priority" while giving away GOP leverage.  

The vote came as Congress has struggled for months to find a long-term government funding solution. Since the start of the fiscal year, lawmakers have had to rely on four funding patches to keep the government operating, the latest of which came last week. And they won't be out of the woods just yet with the six-bill funding package. 

Friday's deadline to fund the government is the first of two. Congress must also pass the remaining six appropriation bills — which pose greater obstacles — by March 22.

The second tranche of spending bills includes funding for agencies like the Department of Defense, a process which has historically been more controversial.

For months, conservatives have pushed for policy riders to be embedded within the funding legislation. While the policies were largely left out of the first group of spending bills, they may pose issues for the second.

Adding to the pressure to approve the remaining funding bills in a timely manner, Congress must pass all of the spending bills before the end of April in order to avoid 1% across-the-board spending cuts under an agreement made during the debt ceiling talks last year. The automatic cuts were put in place to incentivize Congress to approve the funding bills for federal agencies in a timely manner.

With the vote on Wednesday, Congress is one step closer to putting the government funding issue that has plagued them for months to bed — at least for now.

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