House sends two-step government funding punt to Senate on shutdown eve

The House passed a stopgap bill on Thursday afternoon that kicks Congress’ two government shutdown deadlines further into March, as top lawmakers work to pass final versions of half of the dozen annual funding measures next week.

Now the spending patch awaits action in the Senate, where leaders are hoping to lock in unanimous agreement to fast-track final passage as early as Thursday evening. Senate approval will head off a partial government shutdown that would begin after midnight Saturday if Congress doesn’t act, pegging the next funding deadlines as March 8 and March 22.

There are still potential hurdles, to that end. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is asking for a vote on an amendment that would prevent the Federal Reserve from buying the debt of states, and more last-minute demands could crop up. Leaders in the upper chamber will need agreement from all 100 senators in order to pass a stopgap before the shutdown deadline.

In the House, the final passage tally was 320-99, with the support of 207 Democrats and 113 Republicans. House leaders needed to clear a two-thirds vote threshold to advance the continuing resolution, since Speaker Mike Johnson brought it up under a process meant to circumvent conservative hardliners who have blocked bills that are brought up under a simple majority threshold as a form of protest against leadership.

The fact that Johnson has had to rely on overwhelming Democratic support to pass the funding bills “becomes an opportunity for negotiations,” said Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the House’s top Democratic appropriator. The speaker also acknowledged privately to his conference last week that the new tendency of House conservatives to block a simple majority vote has undermined Republican leverage during funding talks.

Under the stopgap, government funding would run out on March 8 for half of the dozen funding bills and on March 22 for the six others. While top lawmakers announced this week that they have struck an agreement on six measures, including four that would expire this Saturday, they have yet to divulge funding totals or policy stipulations, which could be released along with bill text over the coming days.

The new two-date funding patch still saves the most challenging bills for last, punting to late March on funding for the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security, federal health programs and many other agencies that typically spur partisan feuding over both spending levels and policy.

House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas) said “it’s always good” to be on track to pass half of the dozen annual funding measures. As to how the second batch compares, she said bluntly: “Harder.”

The stopgap will be the fourth funding punt Congress has cleared since the fiscal year kicked off in October. It’s the second since Johnson told House Republicans in writing in December, “I do not intend to have the House consider any further short-term extensions,” after passing a patch in November. Going back on that commitment and striking a bipartisan spending agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last month has predictably riled House conservatives.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said Thursday that continuing to clear funding patches and negotiate spending bills that don’t cut federal budgets are going to cause voters to “lose faith in a Republican Party that is no different than what they are campaigning against.”

But Roy declined to comment on whether there will be consequences for Johnson, such as a vote to oust him like the one that resulted in the termination of Kevin McCarthy’s speakership. “I’m not going to talk about that,” Roy told reporters.

Jordain Carney contributed to this report.

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