". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Congress Scrambles to Beat the Budget Buzzer with Raft of Spending Bills

March 4, 2024

Congress may have bought itself another week to deal with the basket of spending bills, but what are the odds they can actually finish them? Hill watchers have their doubts, since it’s been more than 20 years since both sides of the Capitol actually passed the 12 agency budgets the way the Founders intended. Apart from the ticking clock, there’s also the concern that flashpoints like the border and abortion may still tank the bills in the end. It’s all led leaders to float an idea that seemed improbable a month ago: a year-long continuing resolution (CR).

Under this latest extension, the deadline for six of the appropriations bills has been kicked to March 8, with the other half coming due March 22. That’s a tough hill to climb in a Congress that’s only slogged through three proposals and has to reconcile all 12 with the House before Easter. Not to mention, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, leaders decided to “put the six negotiated spending bills on the floor next week under suspension. That means they’ll have to get a higher threshold of support, because they’re going directly to the floor with it.”

In other words, Democrats will have to be on board — a scenario Clyde and other conservatives don’t relish. “We should not be passing a CR under suspension. That means that the Democrats have to vote for it, which means it’s not going to be a Republican bill. It’s going to be basically a Democrat[ic] bill.” Republican priorities like rolling back taxpayer-funded abortions or transgender treatments would almost certainly be stripped out to woo the Left.

On Sunday, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) unveiled plans to roll six of the appropriations bills into one — a 1,050-page monstrosity that would fund the first wave of government departments until later this year. While their plan may succeed in this wave, members know the real landmines lie in the second set of bills, where Homeland Security and the border debate lie.

“Of course, they left the more difficult six appropriations bills for the deadline of March 22nd,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told former Congressman and “Washington Watch” guest host Jody Hice on Friday. “Whether some of them can’t be negotiated or not, we’ll have to see.” If that becomes a prolonged fight, conservatives say, Johnson does have another option.

The next best thing, Clyde said, is if the GOP can’t get “the policy wins that we put in our appropriations [bills] … is a year-long continuing resolution (CR).” Under a deal negotiated under the last House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, House and Senate leaders set April 30 as the final date to pass the 12 spending packages. If Congress failed, then an automatic, across-the-board 1% spending cut would take effect.

“[That] would save almost $100 billion dollars in reduced spending over Pelosi’s 2023 budget,” Clyde pointed out. “And also, all [of] the earmarks that have been added — all those pork barrel projects — would be eliminated as well, because you can’t have earmarks when you have a continuing resolution.”

The downside, Perkins pointed out, is that Republicans lose the policy riders they worked so hard on. This is where the GOP drew the line on a number of things, he explained, “like money’s not going to be spent for abortion, it’s not going to be spent for transgender surgeries, and for all this crazy wokeness. [These appropriations bills are] where you rein this in. But what you’re saying is, even though you’ve gotten those in there, we’re not going to end up with those. Why?” he asked Clyde.

“Because the Republicans are unwilling to fight for it, in my opinion,” the Georgian replied. “… We sent those appropriations over [to the Senate] months and months and months ago. The first one went back in July. We passed most of them in September, in October, and they have sat idle in the Senate, because [Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.] refuses to take them up unless the Republican wins are stripped out of them.”

So what it comes down to, Perkins said, “is … the Republican leadership [in the Senate is] really not going to fight for these policy gains in the appropriations bills.” That means it’s “three-to-one,” he pointed out, referring to Johnson fighting against Schumer, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

It shouldn’t be that way, Clyde argued. “The speaker should have the authority there. I mean, he’s the third most powerful person in government. … But that’s what it seems to be. That’s the way this government has worked for many, many years. And that’s one of the reasons I think it’s so broken.”

At the end of the day, Perkins pointed out, a CR to finish out the year may be a “blunt and imperfect solution,” but the 1% in cuts “would at least be a step — albeit a tiny one — toward getting the national deficit under control.”

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.