Congressional leaders come out with 6 spending bills in a drive to avoid a partial shutdown

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders on Sunday introduced a package of six bills that would set full-year spending levels for some federal agencies, a step forward in a long-awaited funding process that has been plagued by sharp political divisions between the two parties and infighting between the Republicans in the House of Representatives.

The release of the bill last weekend was intended to comply with the House rule of giving lawmakers at least 72 hours to study a bill before voting. And it’s a promising sign that lawmakers will avoid a partial shutdown that would take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday for the agencies covered by the bill, such as Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Transportation, Justice and others.

Congressional leaders hope to complete votes on the package this week and continue negotiations on the remaining six annual spending bills so they can be passed before the March 22 deadline.

House Speaker Mike Johnson highlighted some important policy and spending gains for conservatives, even as many of his Republican colleagues see the changes as inadequate. Some Republicans in the House of Representatives had hoped the prospect of a shutdown could bring more concessions from Democrats.

Overall, despite the rise in inflation, this year’s non-defense spending would remain relatively flat compared to last year, and about $70 billion less than what President Joe Biden originally targeted.

“Republicans in the House of Representatives achieved important conservative policy victories, rejected left-wing proposals and imposed steep cuts to agencies and programs critical to President Biden’s agenda,” Johnson said in a prepared statement.

Earlier this year, Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced an agreement on the top spending level for this year’s discretionary spending, which amounts to more than $1.6 trillion. But that agreement did not address potential policy mandates included in the bills. That is what the negotiations have focused on in recent weeks.

Democrats blocked most policymakers who wanted to bring Republicans into the House of Representatives. For example, they reversed an effort to reverse the FDA’s decision allowing the abortion pill mifepristone to be sold in pharmacies, rather than just in hospitals, clinics and medical offices. Democrats also said the bill would fully fund a nutrition program for low-income women, infants and children known as WIC.

“During the negotiations, Democrats fought hard to protect against cuts to housing and nutrition programs, and to keep out harmful provisions that would further limit access to health care for women, or the progress we have made in the fight against reverse climate change,” said Schumer, DN. .Y., said in support of the legislation.

However, Republicans in the House of Representatives were able to achieve some policy victories. For example, one provision will prevent the sale of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to China.

Another provision strengthens gun rights for certain veterans. Under current law, the VA must send a beneficiary’s name to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System when appointing a fiduciary to help administer a person’s benefits. This year’s spending package prohibits the VA from communicating that information unless a relevant judicial authority determines the beneficiary poses a danger to himself or others.

Still, some of the Republican Party’s more conservative members have been critical of the spending bills, with many voting against the short-term extension that Congress passed last week, which averted a shutdown and allowed negotiations to continue.

“We all promised we wouldn’t do this nonsense when we got here,” said Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Mo., as the short-term extension was discussed. “The American people have been demanding responsible spending and border security for years, but we have failed them. When will we heed the calls of our voters to rein in wasteful spending, secure the borders and defeat the bureaucracy that targets it?

Last week’s short-term extension was the fourth in recent months. The vote to approve it was 320 to 99, but Republicans in the House of Representatives were divided, with 113 in favor and 97 against. The Senate approved the extension, 77-13.

The votes on the spending bills come five months after the start of the budget year.