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Summer time is here as is the congressional appropriations process that is grappling with the debt limit boundaries and an explosion of earmark requests.

Adhering to Debt Limit Deal and Exploding Earmarks in Play

Congress is finalizing Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations as House Republicans remain divided over spending cuts and lawmakers from both parties push for more special project earmarks.

The four bills approved by House Appropriations – Agriculture, Energy-Water, Homeland Security and Military Construction-VA bills – contain $1.9 in congressionally directed spending, up from $1.6 billion in 2023. Senate appropriators approved two spending bills – Agriculture and Military Construction-VA – with $1.6 billion in earmarks.

The biggest growth in earmarks, at least so far, is in the Agriculture appropriations, which sports a $300 million increase over the previous fiscal year. Roll Call reports Congressman Andy Harris, R-Maryland and chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, went from signing a no-earmarks pledge when Democrats were in control to securing $11 million for projects in his district in the FY 2024 spending bill.

Earmarks in the House Energy-Water appropriations  increased by $160 million to $944.5 million. Subcommittee Chair Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tennessee, landed the biggest earmark at $236.8 million to replace a lock on the Tennessee River.

Washington and Oregon lawmakers, with the exception of Oregon GOP Congressman Cliff Bentz, have lobbied effectively in the past for earmarks. They are aided this year because Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, is the new chair of Senate Appropriations. Because more Senate Democrats than Republicans request earmarks, Murray is expected to retain the 62-38 percent split in divvying up funding.

Movement on appropriations in the summer is an encouraging sign Congress may approve a budget before FY 2024 begins September 30. However, the House is already considering a stopgap spending measure in case divisions within the House Republican caucus prevent final approval of appropriation measures.

GOP conservatives were upset at the deal struck by Speaker Kevin McCarthy with President Biden to extend the national debt limit because of the lack of significant spending cuts. The deal basically kept non-defense and Social Security spending at current levels. Senate appropriators are marking up spending bills that align with the debt limit deal.

House conservatives continue to press for deeper spending cuts even as GOP congressional earmarks grow.

The “five families” representing different factions in the House GOP caucus met last month with McCarthy to review appropriation strategy and options, which include clawing back previously appropriated but unspent sums to offset FY 2024 non-defense spending increases.

Based on post-meeting press interviews, many conservative caucus members sounded pessimistic about current plans. “I don’t know how we get off this train of continuous spending,” said Congressman Ralph Norman, R-South Carolina and a Freedom Caucus member. “I’m not into any more smoke and mirrors.”

A continuing resolution would be the fallback to avoid a partial federal government shutdown October 1 if House and Senate negotiators cannot agree on appropriations amounts or compromises cannot pass on the House floor. But a CR would affect proposed FY 2024 defense spending increases, angering hawks in both parties, adding a complication to the political equation.

House conservatives also oppose a continuing resolution, but that may on the table this fall if a clear path on appropriations isn’t identified before the August congressional recess.