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US House approves spending bill to avert government shutdown

Published 03/06/2024, 08:14 AM
Updated 03/06/2024, 07:11 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People walk past the U.S. Capitol building as the deadline to avoid partial government shutdown looms in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2024. REUTERS/Leah Millis/ FILE PHOTO

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation funding a broad swath of the federal government through the fiscal year that began in October, as yet another threat of a partial shutdown looms.

The House voted 339-85 for the bill with 83 Republicans in opposition. It now goes to the Senate for passage by Friday, before a midnight deadline when temporary funding expires for several Washington agencies.

This 1,050-page cluster of bills would keep programs running at huge federal bureaucracies, including the departments of Agriculture, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. Also affected are construction projects at military bases and care for veterans.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson had to rely on support from opposition Democrats to get the massive legislation passed. Since becoming speaker on Oct. 25 following the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, Johnson has had a difficult time governing because of his paper-thin 219-213 majority.

His work has been made all the more difficult by a band of hardline conservatives who have bucked their Republican leadership on a series of bills, including some to fund regular government operations, as well as emergency aid to continue helping Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Representative Mike Simpson, a senior Republican appropriator, defended the bill, saying: "Many agencies with important missions face reductions under this legislation. We believe it is important to reverse the out-of-control growth of the federal government and that is reflected in this agreement."

Even before the sprawling spending bill reached the Senate, Republican Senator Mike Lee tried to kill funding for some federally-backed projects, such as the nearly $1 million for a Georgetown University prison and justice program. He was blocked by Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray.

Hardline House Freedom Caucus members urged fellow Republicans to oppose the bill, saying in a statement that it will "bust" spending caps enacted last June and "punts on nearly every single Republican policy priority."

The group wants significantly deeper spending cuts -- amid national debt nearing $34.5 trillion -- that would be unlikely to clear the Senate or win Biden's signature.

"Republicans will go around and they'll talk about how they scored major wins, how they somehow delivered for the American people ... We did no such thing," said Republican Representative Chip Roy during House debate.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters that her party had to give ground on some spending initiatives. But she applauded the final product, saying it protected women's access to reproductive healthcare and ensured enough funding for food and nutrition programs "so that no family in need was put on a waiting list."

Congress is over five months late in accomplishing its most basic task of passing full-year government funding measures. Passage of these six bills would open the way for lawmakers to move on to the remaining six bills by a March 22 deadline.

Hefty government agencies including the Defense Department, Homeland Security, State Department and Health and Human Services are prominent pieces of the second package.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People walk past the U.S. Capitol building as the deadline to avoid partial government shutdown looms in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2024. REUTERS/Leah Millis/ FILE PHOTO

Taken together, the two batches of bills would spend $1.66 trillion for fiscal 2024, down from the $1.7 trillion in discretionary spending the previous year.

Among agencies that would suffer spending cuts are the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

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