Top lawmakers strike funding deal, potentially averting weekend shutdown

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Congressional leaders struck a government funding deal Wednesday on half a dozen annual spending bills alongside a stopgap that pushes two shutdown deadlines later into March, according to a senior leadership aide.

Top lawmakers closed out negotiations on the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA, Transportation-HUD, Interior-Environment and Commerce-Justice-Science bills, assigning all of those a deadline of March 8. Leaders hope to release text by this weekend and clear the spending bills next week, funding those agencies through September.

The rest of the fiscal 2024 measures, including more contentious bills that would fund the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, will get a new deadline of March 22.

Negotiating the second tranche of spending bills before that deadline will be the true test of whether Speaker Mike Johnson and other congressional leaders can work together to fully fund the government, already five months into the fiscal year. The deal, which negates the risk of a government shutdown just as President Joe Biden is set to deliver his State of the Union address, is the final product of weeks of bipartisan, bicameral negotiations, as well as intense sparring over policy provisions. It follows the funding framework struck by Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last month.

Both chambers only have a couple days to pass the stopgap before a partial government shutdown kicks in on Saturday. And there’s still a few hiccups on that point: Johnson will almost certainly need help from Democrats to pass the measure in the House, and all 100 senators will have to agree to speed up debate to move the stopgap through the upper chamber before the March 1 deadline.

If Congress manages to meet its funding deadlines this time, appropriators will have to immediately pivot to the next slate of spending bills for the new fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. Biden is set to unveil his fiscal 2025 budget request on March 11.

Senior appropriators, deeply frustrated by the partisan feuding over government funding that has consumed the better part of a year, said Wednesday that they’re ready to wrap up this chaotic cycle.

“Look, there’s no reason this shit couldn’t have been done by the end of September,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who oversees the defense spending bill. “We’re five and a half months into [the fiscal year] … Nearly six months in and we’re still talking about whether I’m confident or not about whether it’s going to be done? We need to get this done.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the upper chamber’s most notorious contrarians, has already signaled that he’s “open” to allowing a fast-tracked vote that would avert a partial government shutdown on Saturday.

Anthony Adragna contributed to this report. 

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