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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House approves stopgap spending bill, leaving one week for a broader deal

The U.S. Capitol in Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. The House approved a weeklong spending bill on Wednesday to avert a government shutdown this weekend, as top lawmakers rushed to cement an emerging deal on a sprawling spending package to keep federal programs running into next fall.

By Emily Cochrane

The House has approved a weeklong spending bill to avert a government shutdown this weekend, as top lawmakers rushed to cement an emerging deal on a sprawling spending package to keep federal programs running into next fall.

The measure, which passed 224-201 and largely on party lines on Wednesday, would buy time to finalize an agreed-upon outline announced late Tuesday by three senior lawmakers in both parties, backed by party leaders, for a longer-term package expected to total roughly $1.7 trillion. While no details were given, the lawmakers projected optimism that it would smooth the way for final action before Christmas to resolve remaining disputes and fund the government.

“We have a framework that provides a path forward to enact an omnibus next week,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., chair of the House Appropriations Committee. She added that the committees were prepared to “work around the clock” to finish the legislation. Her comments were echoed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the panel’s top Republican.

House Republicans rejected the deal. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the minority leader who hopes to become speaker and is toiling to win over far-right colleagues who oppose government spending, has instructed his members to vote against any such funding package, and Wednesday held a news conference to spotlight his objections.

“We can’t afford to spend the way Democrats have,” McCarthy said.

But in the House, Democrats had the votes to push through the legislation without needing Republican support. Nine Republicans broke with their party to support the measure, most of whom are leaving Congress at the end of the year.

News of the broad outline came just days before government funding was set to lapse at midnight Friday. The one-week stopgap spending bill would extend funding through Dec. 23, and it now heads to the Senate, which was expected to pass it before the Friday deadline.

With Republicans set to take control of the House in January and a cluster of retiring lawmakers looking to protect a final round of funding priorities, Democrats and several Senate Republicans have expressed little interest in letting talks drag into the new year.

But most House Republicans, including Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who is in line to chair the Appropriations Committee in January when her party assumes the majority, have said that is the only responsible course.

Backed by a few senators, they have pushed to pass a short-term spending measure that would fund the government until the opening days of the next Congress in January, which would give them the ability to try to leverage their new majority in the House to push for sharp spending cuts.

“House Republicans will work toward a spending agreement that cuts wasteful spending, reduces inflation and prioritizes border security and national defense,” Granger said, speaking at an afternoon news conference before the vote. “We have to stop this out-of-control spending.”

But some Republicans fear such a move could yield disastrous consequences for their party’s nascent majority, potentially leading to a shutdown that would put the party’s dysfunction on display just as it was reclaiming a measure of power on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t think any new Congress should be forced into trying to do the last Congress’ work and even more so if you’re changing control,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., one of several Republicans in the upper chamber retiring at the end of the year. “I just think it’s asking for big problems.”

Spending talks had been snarled for weeks over disagreements about how to divvy up money between military and domestic programs. Republicans balked at increasing the share of domestic funding, noting that Democrats over the past two years had muscled through trillions of dollars in climate, health care and social safety net spending over their unanimous opposition.

Shelby, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, said the total for the spending framework was around $1.7 trillion, though he declined to offer specifics. He described the spending level for the domestic programs Democrats prize as one “we think we can live with.”

Because Republican votes are needed to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the evenly divided Senate, aides in both parties conceded that it was likely that Democrats would agree to a higher overall military spending number. Lawmakers were expected to coalesce around about $858 billion in military spending — a figure set by a defense policy bill expected to clear the Senate this week.

“Republicans simply were not going to lavish extra liberal spending on the commander in chief’s own party as reward for adequately funding our national defense — it simply wasn’t going to happen,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, in a speech Wednesday morning. He added: “The framework agreement doesn’t mean the hard work is over. It means the hard work can finally start.”

Lawmakers and aides were scrambling to not only finalize the details of the broader government funding measure, which would last through September 2023, but also to agree on what other legislation could be included in the last must-pass legislative package of the year.

The measure was expected to include emergency aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia; funds to help local communities recover from hurricanes and other natural disasters this past year; and an overhaul of the Electoral Count Act, the statute that former President Donald Trump sought unsuccessfully to exploit to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.

Lawmakers also were wrestling with the possibility of including a number of tax extensions, such as reviving the lapsed expansion of monthly payments to most families with children, and a series of bipartisan health and science bills.

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