WASHINGTON DC: The Democratic-led House passed a short-term spending bill Wednesday to keep government agencies funded at current levels through Dec 23, giving lawmakers more time to craft a roughly USD 1.7 trillion appropriations package that would cover the full fiscal year. Congress faces a deadline of midnight Friday to pass the extension or allow for a partial government shutdown.
The bill would give Congress an additional week to reach a compromise and now goes to the Senate for a vote before it is sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. The one-week extension passed by a vote of 224-201, mainly along party lines.
House Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the extension. Many complained it would allow Congress to pass a massive spending bill before a Republican majority would take charge of the House in January and impose its will on spending.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, said Republicans earned the opportunity after the midterm elections to shape the spending legislation early next year. He called for an extension that would last into the first quarter of 2023. "Allow the American people what they said a month ago - to change Washington as we know it today," McCarthy said.
While Republicans will take the majority in the House, Democrats gained one seat in the Senate and will hold a 51-49 majority there in the next session. McCarthy said the two senators leading the efforts to craft the spending bill won't be in Congress next year and thus won't be accountable to voters for their work. Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., are both retiring.
Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Shelby is the lead Republican on the panel. "It's still not even available for anyone to read and yet they want the ability to bring that up on the eve of Christmas." Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2-ranking House Republican, said of the $1.7 trillion package. "It's a sign that Congress failed to do its job."
However, many Senate Republicans are aware that delaying negotiations into January sets up the kind of collision course that could lead to shutdown, and they fear the GOP would end up taking the blame.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, has made the case that passing a full-year spending bill this Congress is better than the alternatives because it ensures a sizable increase in spending for defense.
"If a truly bipartisan full-year bill without poison pills is ready for final Senate passage by late next week, I'll support it for our Armed Forces,'' McConnell said Wednesday. "Otherwise, we'll be passing a short-term continuing resolution into the new year."
Shelby has said the two parties were about $25 billion apart on overall spending, though they are in agreement on spending about $858 billion on defense.
Lawmakers announced Tuesday night that they had reached agreement on a "framework'' that should allow negotiations to be completed by next week, but they provided no details.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee, urged colleagues to vote for the extension. She said the final spending bill being negotiated "will help keep our nation and our communities safe with the certainty that we all deserve.''
The final bill is also expected to include the Biden administration's request for another $37 billion in aid to Ukraine as well as other bipartisan priorities, including an election measure designed to prevent another Jan. 6 insurrection.
The bill would make it more difficult for lawmakers to object to a particular state's electoral votes and make clear that the constitutional role of the vice president in the proceedings is solely ministerial.