Spending mess in Congress could arch over into pivotal 2024 election year ⋆
WASHINGTON — Congress will need to pass a second stopgap funding measure before Thanksgiving if lawmakers want to avoid a government shutdown, though pushing off final decisions on full-year spending bills until next year would put lawmakers smack dab in the middle of what’s expected to be a contentious 2024 primary season.
During election years, lawmakers are in their home states just as much as they are on Capitol Hill — and even when they are in Washington, their attention is often pulled towards campaigning and fundraising, potentially making it even more difficult to come to agreements.
Next year, the entire House and one-third of the Senate will be up for reelection, with possibly acrimonious congressional primaries on both sides of the aisle and the battle over selection of a Republican presidential nominee.
The possibility of working on the dozen spending bills in that environment isn’t exactly thrilling for the Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations Committees.
Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, chair of the Defense spending panel, said it would be a “big mistake” for leaders to propose a continuing resolution, or CR, that would last until 2024. Under such bills, current spending and policies largely continue.
“The fact is that CRs are not a win, CRs are a lose,” said Tester, one of the more vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection next year.
‘It troubles me’
Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, the top Republican on the Commerce-Justice-Science spending panel, said talks are underway for a continuing resolution that would last until December or January, though no final decisions have been made.
Moran said he would be concerned about Congress trying to work out full-year spending bills any later, in the middle of the primary season.
“I hadn’t thought of that, but it troubles me,” Moran said. “I want the shortest amount of CR possible, so that we don’t then fall back to the position of either an omnibus or a full-year CR.”
For the moment, Moran said, focus has shifted to negotiating a separate, bipartisan supplemental spending bill to help Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the U.S. border, though “that doesn’t mean that just around the corner we’ve got to reach a conclusion in that regard.”
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, chair of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee, said pushing off decisions on the full-year bills until the middle of primary season would make it harder to negotiate amid the Republican presidential primary.
“I’d like to see a CR that goes through mid-December,” said Baldwin, who is up for reelection next year in a purple state.
West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Labor-HHS-Education spending panel, said she would be more worried about how pushing off approval of the dozen bills until next year would delay starting work on fiscal 2025.
That process should begin in early February when the president sends his budget request to Congress, but departments and agencies don’t yet know what their budgets are for the current fiscal year that began back on Oct. 1.
That makes it especially problematic for them to finalize their requests during December and January for next year’s proposal.
“We’re going to put ourselves back in the same squeeze box we’re in right now if we keep pushing back these dates,” Capito said. “I’m worried about that, so I think that’s a consideration.”
Primary season politics likely won’t be an issue if Congress is forced to negotiate full-year spending bills next year, she said.
“A lot of it’s so in the weeds here, and people are more focused on the price of gas and what’s happening in Gaza and Israel and more internationally. It’s just not ‘What date are you going to pass one bill,’” Capito said. “If we start to talk about shutdown again, that’s another story. But I don’t hear anybody talking about that as a possibility.”
Representative Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas leans in to talk with Representative Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana during a House Judiciary Committee markup of Articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Longworth House Office Building on December 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Jonathan Newton-Pool/Getty Images
Little movement on negotiations
The House has approved seven of its dozen spending bills and the Senate has approved three, though the Senate’s bills are broadly bipartisan while the House’s versions have only garnered Republican support.
House GOP lawmakers also wrote their bills more than $130 billion below the spending levels agreed to earlier this year as part of the debt limit law, and added in culture war issues that could never become law.
The two chambers could be reconciling the differences between their Military Construction-VA spending bills, since each chamber has approved its version, but that’s not happening.
And several appropriators interviewed by States Newsroom had no idea when those talks would begin.
“What counts is what comes out of that conference committee and we have no idea what it will be,” said Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, the top Republican on the Energy-Water spending subcommittee.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, elected in late October after weeks of Republican infighting, said Thursday during a press conference that it’s “yet to be determined” how Congress will fund the government beyond the Nov. 17 deadline.
“I think everyone here recognizes that we’re running out of time, that we may not get all this done by Nov. 17,” Johnson said. “There’s a growing recognition that we’re going to need another stopgap funding measure.”
Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, has proposed extending government funding through Jan. 15 to get Congress past the “Christmas rush,” saying there are some “good arguments for that,” though he noted there are other ideas as well.
“One idea pitched this morning is a laddered CR,” Johnson said. “I’ll unpack for you what that means here in the coming days, but potentially that you would do a CR that extends individual pieces of the appropriations process, individual bills.”
Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, pressed back against the idea of a longer CR during a floor speech Wednesday.
“While we may need another CR before our work is done, we absolutely have to remember — long-term CRs are no way to govern, and they certainly are no way to lead,” Murray said.
“When we operate under long-term CRs, our agencies are stuck in neutral. They cannot plan for the future. They have to delay initiatives and investments,” Murray added. “They are far less equipped to meet the pressing challenges we face. Governing by CRs hurts families who need a government that works reliably, seriously stunts our economy and American innovation, and dangerously impedes our national security.”
authored by Jennifer Shutt
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