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Four spending bills readied for House floor amid stopgap uncertainty

Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy speaks to members of the media at the U.S. Capitol on Friday in Washington, D.C.  (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
By Paul M. Krawzak and Aidan Quigley CQ-Roll Call

WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Saturday set up floor debate for this upcoming week on four fiscal 2024 appropriations bills after making combined cuts of nearly $3.8 billion from agriculture and foreign aid programs compared with original committee-reported versions.

But it’s not clear they’ll have the votes to adopt the expansive rule, which covers debate and 440 amendments to the Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture and State-Foreign Operations measures. And a continuing resolution to simply keep federal agencies’ lights on beyond the upcoming Saturday was still nowhere in sight amid an ongoing revolt by ultraconservatives in that chamber.

“There are still a few members that won’t vote for funding the government while we finish all the 12 bills. I don’t understand,” said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who spoke to reporters outside the Rules Committee’s meeting Saturday. He said he was still hoping to avoid a partial government shutdown as members “that have been holding off all this time blaming everybody else, will finally, hopefully, move off.”

GOP conference members held a conference call Saturday afternoon to discuss the schedule, and what to do about a CR, after the Rules panel adopted the rule for floor debate on the four full-year bills on a 9-2 vote.

Republicans are looking at taking the base text of a stopgap bill they introduced last week, extending the length from one month to six weeks, cutting the annualized funding rate and adding border security legislation and a fiscal commission to look at long-term deficit reduction measures. But nothing’s been released yet or scheduled for floor action.

The House has passed just one of the dozen spending bills, the fiscal 2024 Military Construction-VA measure. The Senate has passed none, after a three-bill package stalled last week.

House conservatives have been demanding $115 billion in cuts to the remaining bills, and some like Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., have led a push for the chamber to focus on passing revised versions of the full-year bills before considering any CR. Gaetz also said he won’t vote for a CR in any case.

Now even the stated desire to return to “regular order” consideration of individual spending bills is in some doubt. The rule contains an unusual new provision that sparked a protest from Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., though he ultimately voted to adopt the rule in committee after voting with the Democrats on their unsuccessful attempt to strike it.

The provision would hold the Homeland Security measure at the desk rather than send it to the Senate unless the GOP border security legislation is first enacted into law, a provision Massie said “really crosses the line” and would set a bad precedent for the chamber.

“We promised the American people regular order,” Massie said before voting for Colorado Democrat Joe Neguse’s amendment to strike the provision.

Neguse argued the provision made no sense when Congress was struggling just to avoid a shutdown, let alone pass bills in the next six days that President Joe Biden has said he’ll veto, like the border measure.

“You will create a level of gridlock in the legislative process that will become untenable,” Neguse warned.

Packed schedule

The tentative schedule circulating among lawmakers calls for debate and adoption of the rule on Tuesday when the chamber reconvenes, followed by the beginning of debate on the Defense bill. Wednesday would see amendment debate wrap up on the Defense measure, followed by debate on the Homeland Security bill and its amendments.

Thursday would be set aside for debate and amendments to the State-Foreign Operations bill and the start of debate and amendments on the Agriculture spending bill. Agriculture amendments would finish up Friday, followed by votes on all four bills.

This past week, the House for the third time was unable to adopt a rule to bring the Defense bill to the floor, in part because Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., changed her vote to “no” upon discovering the measure’s $300 million for Ukrainian military training.

There had been discussion of stripping the money in order to placate Greene, but McCarthy said ultimately leadership decided to keep it in that bill as well as separate State-Foreign Operations funds for Ukraine. “I think she’ll vote ‘no’ on the rule if it’s in there,” McCarthy said.

GOP leaders can only lose four votes on a partisan rule or bill if all are present and voting.

Additional cuts

Last week Gaetz said it would demonstrate “sincerity” when it comes to fiscal discipline by bringing to the floor bills with cuts in them in quick succession after the bigger-spending measures backed by many Republicans, chiefly the Defense bill but also the DHS measure.

The Agriculture bill – which would be the first to go a final passage vote under the tentative schedule leadership is considering – would see additional cuts totaling $2.8 billion. It was previously funded at nearly $25.4 billion when the House Appropriations Committee reported it out this summer.

The manager’s amendment from Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., would slash $1.2 billion from the Food for Peace program, bringing the total down to $532 million, or nearly 70% lower than the current fiscal year. Rules ranking member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., lambasted the GOP for cutting the overseas food assistance funds while “in the middle of a global food security crisis,” but his amendment to strike the cut was rejected.

The amendment from Harris also would cut every other program funded in the bill – save for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children – by over 14%. That includes the measure’s $50 million for the FDA’s innovation account that was provided by the 2016 biomedical research law known as “21st Century Cures” that Harris, among other Republicans, vocally supported.

The combined effect of the manager’s amendment, which would be incorporated into the base text if the rule for floor debate is adopted, would bring total cuts in the measure below this year’s comparable levels to around $3.7 billion, a 14% reduction.

The State-Foreign Operations bill, drafted by that subcommittee’s chairman, Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., was already slated to take a big hit under its previous incarnation.

His manager’s amendment, which also would be slipped into the base text upon adoption of the rule, would make an additional $1 billion in cuts, mostly from State Department diplomatic programs and contributions to international peacekeeping missions as well as U.S. Agency for International Development operating expenses.

In total, the State-Foreign Operations bill would be cut below this year’s comparable levels by nearly $10.3 billion, or almost 17%, if the manager’s amendment is adopted.

The cuts are a down payment on a total of $60 billion conservatives extracted from GOP leaders that they are still scrambling to identify.

House Appropriations Republicans are laying plans to take up the Labor-HHS-Education and Commerce-Justice-Science measures in full committee as soon as this upcoming week. Those bills haven’t advanced beyond subcommittee action yet due to intraparty rifts.

But committee rules dictate they can’t mark up spending bills at the same time the committee is on the floor debating other appropriations bills, putting that timeline in doubt.

And party leaders served notice that in order to fulfill the mission of taking up individual bills, a scheduled recess the week of Oct. 2 was likely to be scrapped for floor consideration of the Interior-Environment and Energy-Water spending bills. That in itself is an admission that the chamber doesn’t have time to pass all the individual bills before the Sept. 30 shutdown deadline.

McCarthy pointed out that the House hasn’t been able to pass more than one bill largely due to conservative holdouts who have objected to floor consideration since the initial bills were ready to go in July.

“They don’t want to do a CR because they want to do individual bills. Well, we’ve been trying to pass individual bills this whole time that they’ve been denying us to even get up on,” McCarthy said Saturday. If the GOP can’t pass a stopgap bill, he said it puts them in a “very weak position to win anything for the American public.”

McCarthy said the chamber needs to “accept a Republican funding bill that funds government for a short term so we can finish the Republican appropriations bills off the floor.”


(David Lerman contributed to this report.)