House Passes Stopgap Funding Bill, Averting Shutdown

Reuters/Erin Scott

Just hours before a midnight deadline, the House on Friday passed a short-term bill that will keep government agencies funded until December 16. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law later in the day.

The vote was 230-201, largely along party lines. All but 10 House Republicans opposed the bill, and they complained that it does nothing to address inflation, energy costs and security at the southern border. Many also objected to the timeline and wanted to extend the funding into January so that the new Congress, which they expect to include a Republican-controlled House, could put its stamp on the final 2023 fiscal spending package.

Some Democrats also complained that the bill fell short, with more than $20 billion in funding for treatments and vaccines for Covid-19 and monkeypox dropped from the package due to Republican opposition. But most lawmakers were eager to avoid a shutdown – and to head out of Washington so they could focus on the midterms back home.

“Despite these shortcomings, the investments included in this bill are urgent and necessary to avoid disruptions to vital federal agencies, to help communities get back on their feet, to ensure we have the time needed to negotiate a final funding agreement that meets the needs of hard-working people,” House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said on the House floor.

While holding government funding at current levels, the legislative package includes more than $12 billion in additional military and economic aid for Ukraine. It also provides $4.5 billion for disaster relief and $1 billion to help low-income households pay their heating bills this winter. A user fee that helps fund the Food and Drug Administration was also reauthorized for five years, averting potential layoffs at the agency.

An old and familiar habit: Congress has now failed to pass a budget on time for 26 years in a row. It’s also the fifth year in a row that both houses of Congress have been unable to pass even one of the 12 annual funding bills before the beginning of the new fiscal year, which starts on October 1. And the last-minute rush to avoid a shutdown is nothing new either, with Congress waiting until the last week to pass a short-term funding bill in eight out of the last 10 years.

“Passing a budget to fund the government is the most fundamental part of governing, and our leaders are failing—it’s as though the budget committees don’t even exist,” Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said in a statement.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) addressed the issue Friday. “The good news is that the House and Senate have now sent President Biden a continuing resolution to keep the government open,” he said in a statement. “The bad news is that we needed a continuing resolution because the Congress did not complete its work on full-year appropriations. … we can and must do better.”

What comes next: Ideally, lawmakers will use the next 11 weeks to reach an agreement on 2023 spending levels, enabling them to pass a full-year budget in December. But with all attention turning to the midterms in November, there’s good reason to suspect that Congress may not have enough time to finish its work by the December deadline. Lawmakers will likely have to address other issues that crop up, such as additional disaster funding, and all negotiations over spending will no doubt be colored by the outcome of the midterm vote.

Asked whether he expects Congress to have a spending package ready to go by December, Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), who sits on the Appropriations Committee, told The Hill: “If the past is any indication of what’s going to happen in the future, we’d be lucky for that to happen.”

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