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Congress Approves Short-Term Funding to Avoid Shutdown


Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, center, speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 29, 2024.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, center, speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 29, 2024.

Congress passed another short-term spending measure Thursday that would keep one set of federal agencies operating through March 8 and another set through March 22, avoiding a shutdown for parts of the federal government that would otherwise kick in Saturday. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

The short-term extension is the fourth in recent months, and many lawmakers expect it to be the last for the fiscal year. House Speaker Mike Johnson said negotiators had completed six of the annual spending bills that fund federal agencies and had "almost final agreement on the others."

"We'll get the job done," Johnson said as he exited a closed-door meeting with Republican colleagues.

The House acted first Thursday. The vote to approve the extension was 320-99. It easily cleared the two-thirds majority needed for passage. Democrats overwhelmingly voted to avert a partial shutdown. But the vote was much more divided with Republicans, 113 in support and 97 against.

The Senate then took up the bill and approved it during an evening vote of 77-13.

"When we pass this bill, we will have, thank God, avoided a shutdown with all its harmful effects on the American people," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said moments before the vote.

Next week, the House and Senate are expected to take up a package of six spending bills and get them to the president before March 8. Then, lawmakers would work to fund the rest of the government by the new March 22 deadline.

At the end of the process, Congress is expected to have approved more than $1.6 trillion in spending for the fiscal year that began October 1. That amount is roughly in line with the previous fiscal year and is what former Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated with the White House last year before eight disgruntled Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats a few months later and voted to oust him from the position.

Some of the House's most conservative members wanted deeper cuts for non-defense programs than that agreement allowed through its spending caps. They also sought an array of policy changes that Democrats opposed. They were hoping the prospect of a shutdown could leverage more concessions.

Republican leadership said that the broader funding legislation being teed up for votes in March would lead to spending cuts for many nondefense agencies. By dividing the spending bill into chunks, they are hoping to avoid an omnibus bill — a massive, all-encompassing bill that lawmakers generally had little time to digest or understand before voting on it. Republicans vowed there would be no omnibus this time.

Rep. Matt Gaetz speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Feb. 29, 2024.
Rep. Matt Gaetz speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Feb. 29, 2024.

"When you take away Defense and Veterans Affairs, the rest of the agencies are going to be seeing spending cuts in many cases," said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La. "There are also some policy changes that we pushed through the House that will be in the final product. Of course, some of those are still being negotiated."

The temporary extension funds the departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Interior and others through March 8. It funds the Pentagon, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the State Department through March 22.

While congressional leaders have said they've reached final agreement on what will be in the first package of spending bills voted on next week, there's still room for an impasse on the second package to be voted on later in the month.

The renewed focus on this year's spending bills doesn't include the separate, $95.3 billion aid package that the Senate approved for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan earlier this month, with much of that money being spent in the U.S. to replenish America's military arsenal. The bill also contained about $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine and other war zones.

Democrats urged quicker action on Ukraine as the temporary spending bill was debated.

"Without swift action, the legacy of this Congress will be the destruction of Ukraine, the appeasement of a dictator, and the abandonment of starving children and ailing families," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.