House tees up vote to keep money flowing to several key federal agencies

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives is expected to vote to keep money flowing to dozens of federal agencies before the Friday midnight shutdown deadline, while many members of the Republican conference are expected to vote against it.

The first package of six bills, expected to be voted on Wednesday, carries a price tag of about $460 billion. Lawmakers are still negotiating a second package of six bills, including defense bills, in an effort to have all agencies fully funded before the March 22 deadline. Ultimately, total discretionary spending authorized by Congress is expected to amount to approximately $1.66 trillion.

A significant number of Republicans in the House of Representatives oppose the measure, forcing House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to use an expedited process to put the bill up for a vote. That process requires two-thirds of the House of Representatives to vote in favor of the measure before it passes.

Non-defense expenditures in this year’s accounts are relatively flat compared to the previous year. Advocates say keeping spending below inflation amounts to a budget cut, forcing agencies to be more frugal and focus manpower on top priorities. Johnson touted a 10% cut for the Environmental Protection Agency, a 7% cut for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a 6% cut for the FBI.

But many Republican lawmakers were looking for much sharper cuts and more policy gains. The House Freedom Caucus, which includes dozens of the Republican Party’s most conservative members, has called on Republicans to vote against the first spending package that will be voted on Wednesday and to oppose the second package that is still being negotiated.

“Despite giving Democrats higher spending levels, the omnibus text released points on nearly every Republican policy priority to date,” the group said.

Johnson countered that Republicans in the House of Representatives have only a two-vote majority in the House, while Democrats control the Senate and the White House.

“We have to be realistic about what we can achieve,” Johnson said.

Democrats blocked most policymakers that Republicans in the House of Representatives wanted to include in the package. For example, they beat back an attempt to block new rules expanding access to the abortion pill mifepristone.

Democrats also said the bill would fully fund a nutrition program for low-income women, infants and children, providing about $7 billion for what is known as the WIC program. That’s an increase of $1 billion from the previous year.

As part of those negotiations, Republicans in the House of Representatives have pushed to allow some states to ban the purchase of non-nutritious foods, such as sugary drinks and snacks, in the food stamp program known as SNAP. The GOP effort has been unsuccessful so far, but supporters say they will try again on spending bills next year.

“The bill certainly doesn’t include everything we might have wanted, but I am very proud to say that we have successfully passed the vast majority of the extreme cuts and hundreds of harmful policies proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives defeated,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro. , the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

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 policy mandate prohibits the Justice Department from investigating parents who exercise free speech rights at local school board meetings.

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.

A gun violence prevention group formed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured in a mass shooting, said the change would make it easier for people at risk of suicide to access a gun.

“Republicans are dodging the issue of gun violence and instead blaming it on mental illness, then fighting to give individuals with diminished mental capacity unfettered access to guns,” said Vanessa N. Gonzalez, vice president at Giffords.

In a closed-door meeting with the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, to demonstrate that Republicans were making some policy victories in the negotiations, Johnson read from a news report about how Democrats had “heartburn” over the gun supply, according to a Republican celebrity. with the discussion, who was not authorized to discuss it in public.

Bills to fund federal agencies are more than five months overdue as the fiscal year begins Oct. 1. House Republicans nevertheless describe an improved process, saying they have broken the cycle of passing all the spending bills in one big package that lawmakers have little time to study before asking them to vote on it or risk a government shutdown.

“We’ve broken the omnibus fever,” Johnson said.

But critics of the bill, such as Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., were dismissive of how much it actually changed the process, calling the spending packages “an omnibus cut in two.”

The package being voted on this week includes the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Interior and Transportation.

Once the package is approved by the House of Representatives, it will go to the Senate, where supporters plan to vote before Friday’s midnight deadline.


Associated Press congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.