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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Leaders release $1.2 trillion spending bill as Congress races to avert shutdown



House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) at a weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Tucked inside a massive measure to fund the government through the fall are several initiatives sought by members of both parties. Aides are still writing the legislative language. (Haiyun Jiang/ The New York Times)

By Catie Edmondson


Top congressional negotiators in the early hours of Thursday unveiled the $1.2 trillion spending bill to fund the government through September, though it remained unclear whether Congress would be able to complete action on it in time to avert a brief partial government shutdown over the weekend.


Lawmakers are racing to pass the legislation before a Friday midnight deadline in order to prevent a lapse in funds for over half the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and health agencies. They are already six months behind schedule because of lengthy negotiations to resolve funding and policy disputes.


Now that they have agreed on a final package, which wraps six spending bills together, passage could slip past 12:01 a.m. Saturday because of a set of arcane congressional rules. House Republican leaders were signaling that they intended to hold a vote on the bill Friday, bypassing a self-imposed rule requiring that lawmakers be given at least 72 hours to review legislation before it comes up for a vote.


There could be additional hurdles in the Senate, where any one lawmaker’s objection to speedy passage of legislation could prolong debate and delay a final vote. White House officials urged Congress in a statement Thursday to “send this critical legislation to the president’s desk for signature without delay.”


Democrats and Republicans both highlighted victories in the painstakingly negotiated legislation. Republicans cited as victories funding for 2,000 new Border Patrol agents, additional detention beds run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and a provision cutting off aid to the main United Nations agency that provides assistance to Palestinians. Democrats secured funding increases for federal child care and education programs, cancer and Alzheimer’s research.


“We had to work within difficult fiscal constraints — but this bipartisan compromise will keep our country moving forward,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chair of the Appropriations Committee.


The legislation funds roughly 8,000 more detention beds than last year’s bill, a provision House Republicans bitterly fought for. Congress funded 34,000 beds through the fall of 2023, but under the stopgap measure currently funding the department, the number of beds rose to about 42,000. Negotiators agreed to keep funding flowing to support that higher number.


It also increases funding for technology at the southern border by about 25%.


Lawmakers wrote the measure to comply with the debt and spending deal negotiated last year by the speaker at the time, Kevin McCarthy, and President Joe Biden. It called for keeping spending on domestic programs essentially flat — even as funding for veterans’ programs continues to grow and military spending increases slightly.


That translated, in part, to cuts to the State Department’s budget and foreign aid programs, a frequent target of GOP criticism.


Republicans also successfully inserted a provision in the legislation barring funding from going to UNRWA, the main U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, through March 2025, which could create a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars for the agency. The measure would extend a pause in funding that the White House and lawmakers from both parties supported after Israel accused at least 12 UNRWA employees in January of participating in the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel led by Hamas.


“House Republicans made a commitment to strategically increase defense spending, make targeted cuts to overfunded nondefense programs and pull back wasteful spending from previous years,” said Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “I am proud to say that we have delivered on that promise, and this bill is proof.”


Democrats were able to secure significant increases in spending on child care and education programs, as well as health research, driven by the two top Democratic appropriators, Murray and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who have spent decades working on initiatives to lift children out of poverty.


The legislation contains a 9% increase in funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant, the nation’s primary child care program, and a $275 million increase for Head Start. It also includes a $120 million increase in funding for cancer research.


“This bipartisan bill ensures our workforce is strong, that families are healthy and safe, and that the future of our children is secure,” DeLauro said.


Also included in the legislation is $200 million for the construction of a new headquarters for the FBI in Maryland, funding that ultraconservative House Republicans had clamored to block.


Lawmakers also appear to have fulfilled a request by the Supreme Court for an increase in security funding. The court asked for an additional $19 million for protection of the justices’ residences, as well as 33 new security-related positions.


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