Thursday, May 30, 2024

D.C. spending standoff ahead as U.S. House Republicans demand $130 billion in cuts

by BIZ Magazine

By Jennifer Shutt, States Newsroom

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans outlined Wednesday how they would cut $130 billion from the dozen annual government funding bills — producing a plan with significantly lower spending than the level both parties agreed to in the debt limit deal just two weeks ago.

The spending levels likely set up a stalemate later this year between the GOP House and Democratic Senate that could lead to a partial government shutdown.

Contentious policy riders added by Republicans — such as a ban on funding for the teaching or promotion of critical race theory and a proposal that would eliminate pharmacies’ ability to dispense the abortion pill after receiving a prescription — likely won’t make it into the final versions of spending bills, though they will add hurdles to the process.

Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger, a Texas Republican, said during the markup that Congress has “no choice but to reduce spending where we can.”

Granger also contended that the debt limit agreement set a ceiling, not a floor on government spending.

“The allocations before us reflect the change members on my side of the aisle want to see by returning spending to responsible levels,” Granger said.

“They also fulfill our commitment to focus our limited resources on the core responsibilities of the federal government — national security, veterans, and border security are our priorities,” Granger added.

Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the committee’s ranking member, said the change in spending levels shows Republicans “have no desire to govern in anything resembling a serious manner.”

“These Republican allocations, secretly leaked to the press before they were shared with members of this committee, are a complete affront, an abrogation of the deal your speaker just reached with the president of the United States,” DeLauro said.

“These allocations are either an attempt to appease the same reckless faction that would rather have us default than uphold our constitutional duty, or they are evidence that the same Republican members who voted for the debt deal no longer support it,” she added.

The Committee, in a sign of significant tension, abruptly adjourned Wednesday evening before voting to adopt the spending levels.

No reductions for defense

The funding levels apply to the discretionary spending in the dozen annual appropriations bills, which include about one-third of all federal spending.

The allocations would reduce funding across broad swaths of the federal government, with the more substantial cuts hitting the Financial Services, Interior-Environment and State-Foreign Operations bills. That means funding for everything from national parks to housing to climate initiatives could be hit.

Republicans aren’t proposing spending cuts for the Defense, Homeland Security or Military Construction-VA spending bills.

The total funding level is lower than the spending agreement Speaker Kevin McCarthy brokered during debt limit negotiations with the Biden administration.

That decision is expected to inflict headaches later in the year when the Republican House and Democratically controlled Senate negotiate conferenced bills that can pass both chambers.

That bipartisan spending agreement set defense discretionary spending at $886 billion and approved $704 billion for nondefense accounts during the fiscal year set to begin Oct. 1.

But conservative Republicans have pressed for what McCarthy promised them behind closed doors in order to secure the speaker’s gavel in January — last year’s spending levels.

The White House signaled Tuesday it’s not open to renegotiating the debt limit agreement.

“We made a deal, and we will uphold our end of this deal. And so they need to uphold theirs. And so I’ll just leave it there,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Senate Majority Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Tuesday he doesn’t expect the spending levels will “have much support in the Senate among Democrats or Republicans.”

Battles ahead

The House Appropriations Committee will include more details about how much Republicans want to spend on specific departments, agencies and programs that make up each bill as the legislation moves through committee in the weeks ahead.

The legislation will likely change when the committee debates the bills and during House floor debate.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is taking a different approach to its fiscal 2024 funding process than colleagues across the Capitol.

Chair Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, plan to release and debate bipartisan bills later this month.

“We have to show there is a bipartisan vision to strengthen our nation’s competitiveness and security by investing in American leadership across the board and across the world — and a bipartisan will to get it done,” Murray and Collins said in a joint statement released in May. “We are determined to show that commitment exists through the Senate appropriations process.”

After the House and Senate each debate their dozen appropriations bills, they’ll head to conference later this year.

If Republicans and Democrats from both chambers agree on spending levels and policy during those closed-door meetings, the final bills will head back to the floors for votes before heading to President Joe Biden for his signature.

If they cannot agree by Oct. 1, they’ll need to pass a short-term funding patch or begin a partial government shutdown.

Congress needs to pass all of the spending bills before 2024, or a new provision from the debt limit deal will implement a 1% across the board cut until they become law.

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