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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Here’s what’s in the bipartisan spending bill to prevent a partial shutdown



House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) walks to his office in the U.S. Capitol building, in Washington, on Feb. 28, 2024. Congress is expected to take up and approve a package of six spending bills later this week to fund the government, after months of bitter negotiations as Republicans pressed for cuts and conservative policies. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Catie Edmondson


Congress is expected later this week to take up and approve a package of six spending bills to fund half the government through the fall, after months of bitter negotiations as Republicans pressed for cuts and conservative policies.


The $460 billion legislation would fund a slew of government agencies and programs, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It must pass in order to avert a partial government shutdown at the end of the week.


Top lawmakers are still negotiating spending for the other half of the government for the rest of the year, including for the Pentagon, that Congress must pass by March 22 to avert a lapse in funding for those programs.


Here is what to know about the 1,050-page bill on track for passage this week.


Republicans failed to win any major policy changes.


The funding levels adhere to the debt limit and spending deal negotiated last year by President Joe Biden and the speaker at the time, Kevin McCarthy, keeping spending on domestic programs essentially flat — even as funding for veterans’ programs continues to grow — while allowing military spending to increase slightly.


Ultimately, lawmakers jettisoned most of House Republicans’ most sweeping and divisive demands, including blocking an increase in funding for nutrition assistance programs for low-income women and children, and halting the implementation of new rules to allow greater access to abortion medication.


But Speaker Mike Johnson and his negotiators were able to secure a number of smaller demands, including cuts to the EPA and the FBI.


The bill would increase nutrition funding for low-income women and children.


Republicans opposed a bid by Democrats to increase funding for the nutrition program known as WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children, but Democrats secured $7.03 billion for the program — more than $1 billion greater than what Biden had initially requested — saying the additional money was necessary to keep up with rising needs.


Democrats also fended off an effort led by a top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee and member of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, to start a pilot program in several states to restrict what low-income recipients could purchase with government help through the food nutrition program known as SNAP, limiting them to “nutrient dense” foods.


Republicans won cuts to the EPA, the FBI and the ATF.


Negotiators agreed to cut funding for the EPA by nearly 10%, however the real reduction is only about 4% because of a change in how the Superfund program, which is responsible for cleaning up contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies such as oil spills, is paid for.


The spending bill includes deep cuts to the Superfund program, but Biden has signed legislation, including the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law and the landmark health, climate and tax law, that created new tax revenue to finance it.


The FBI, a frequent target of Republicans who claim that law enforcement has been weaponized against the right, would receive a 6% cut in funding — most of it targeting the bureau’s budget for the construction of a new building. Funding for FBI salaries would also decrease slightly.


Republicans also insisted on the inclusion of a measure prohibiting the Justice Department from targeting or investigating “parents who peacefully protest at school board meetings and are not suspected of engaging in unlawful activity.” Conservatives were outraged when the department in 2021 began tracking threats against school administrators, teachers and board members amid heated and occasionally violent clashes over issues like mask requirements.


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — which Republicans criticize for regulating guns too tightly — would also see a 7% cut, while funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration would increase slightly.


Republicans won a provision making it easier for veterans deemed mentally incompetent to buy a gun.


Republicans used the spending legislation to target a policy instituted by the Department of Veterans Affairs that aims to prevent veteran suicides by flagging to a federal gun background check system when veterans are found to lack the mental capacity to handle their own finances. Under language the GOP insisted on, the VA could not do so without a court order. Republicans contended that the current practice relies on an overly broad definition of incompetence and could infringe upon veterans’ Second Amendment rights.


GOP measures to restrict abortion access did not make the final cut.


House Republicans had loaded up their spending bills with provisions aimed at restricting abortion access.


In one case last fall, more moderate GOP lawmakers helped to sink a spending bill that prevented money from being spent to enforce a District of Columbia law that protects employees from being discriminated against for seeking contraception or abortion services.


Republicans also sought to defund a new rule by the Food and Drug Administration allowing mifepristone — the first pill used in a two-drug medication abortion regimen — to be distributed through the mail and at retail locations.


None of those measures made it into the first spending package.


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