House Conservatives Pan Deal Without Deep Cuts as ‘Worse Than Expected’
Senate and House leaders reached an agreement over the weekend on a $1.66 trillion Fiscal Year 2024 spending measure, but its survival on the House floor remains in doubt before stopgap funding authority for 20 percent of the government expires January 19 and the rest of government February 2.
The agreement provides for an increase in defense spending while keeping discretionary domestic spending levels essentially the same as in the debt ceiling deal. House Speaker Mike Johnson secured $16 billion in recissions of previously appropriated funds, including $6.1 billion in claw-backs from Covid aid and $10.2 billion in funding for the Internal Revenue Service.
The House Freedom Caucus panned the agreement as “worse than expected”, raising questions how quickly, if at all, Johnson can get the spending agreement to the House floor. The political corner Johnson is in resembles the one that lead to the ouster of his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy.
Johnson’s situation is dicier because his House Republican caucus has shrunk to just 219 members following the resignation of McCarthy and one other House Republican at the end of last year. Some observers believe a partial government shutdown is inevitable unless new stopgap spending authority is approved. Washington Senator Patty Murray was assigned to develop that new stopgap funding authority. Johnson pledged last year to avoid any new stopgap spending measures.
Averting a shutdown is only the beginning of legislative drama. The House and Senate still must agree on 12 individual appropriations. House conservatives can be expected to press even harder for their culture war provisions in lieu of deep spending cuts. Those provisions have little chance in the Senate and could even attract a presidential veto in an election year.
Because of its procedural rules, it typically takes a week to pass a bill in the Senate, especially a politically charged continuing resolution of an appropriation that attracts many amendments.
The White House has a voice in the negotiations through its veto power. A Biden spokesperson said it wouldn’t agree to any deeper IRS budget cuts. The administration had agreed to $10 billion in cuts in previous negotiation and went along with an additional $10 billion in the agreement reached over the weekend.
Murray, who chairs Senate Appropriations, and Ranking Republican Susan Collins also saw their $13.7 billion emergency spending plan go poof in the weekend deal.
The Covid-related claw-backs will mostly come from unspent money in the Health and Human Services budget. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer assured the claw-back would not impact continuing investments in new vaccines.
Supplemental Spending Request for Security
President Biden’s supplemental spending request for national security also remains in limbo as negotiators continue to wrangle over southern border provisions. Biden has agreed to increase border security funding, but Republicans are pushing for policy changes, many of which are at the urging of former President Trump.
Border funding and policy changes are bundled with further aid to Ukraine, military aid to Israel and national security assistance to Taiwan. Late last year, House Republicans carved off aid to Israel and tied it to IRS spending cuts, a non-starter in the Senate.
While a majority of House members reportedly support continued military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, there may not be enough House Republican support to allow an aid package to reach the House floor.
President Biden’s supplemental security spending request for
Ukraine and Israel remains in political limbo over border policy.
More Legislation Complications
The path to compromise on almost any front is likely to get rockier in a presidential election year with a high likelihood of a rematch between Biden and Trump. The battle for control of Congress will also be hard fought and could help or hinder whoever wins the White House for the next four years.
Presidential campaigns have always been contentious and are more so in the digital age with more channels and more money to drive constant messaging. Biden and Trump, neither of whom have been nominated as their party’s standard-bearers, are already trading punches.
Trump’s campaign schedule will include multiple court appearances on the four felony indictments he faces, plus various legal appeals, including one to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling to bar him from that state’s GOP primary ballot.
Adding to circus-like atmosphere, House Republicans have voted to authorize an impeachment inquiry against Biden, pursue contempt charges against Hunter Biden and undertake impeachment proceedings for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.