Congress passed a bill on Thursday that would prevent a partial government shutdown this weekend and keep federal funds flowing through early March. The bill, which was approved by the Senate and the House with bipartisan support, came after weeks of negotiations between the leaders of both chambers.
The Budget Deal
The short-term spending bill was based on a budget deal that House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., reached earlier this month. The deal set the overall spending levels for the fiscal year 2024, which began on Oct. 1, 2023, and lifted the debt ceiling until Dec. 16, 2024.
The deal also included some policy provisions, such as funding for disaster relief, health care, education, and defense. The deal was praised by some lawmakers as a rare example of bipartisanship and compromise in a divided Congress.
The budget deal was a major achievement for Johnson, who became the speaker in October after his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was ousted by his own caucus. Johnson faced pressure from some conservatives to reject the deal and demand deeper spending cuts, but he managed to persuade most of his members to support it.
The Stopgap Measure
The budget deal, however, did not translate into a full-year spending package for the federal government. The deal only set the overall spending limits, but the individual spending bills for each agency and program had to be drafted and passed by both chambers.
This process proved to be time-consuming and complicated, as lawmakers had to sort out the details and resolve the differences between the House and the Senate versions of the bills. Some of the bills also faced opposition from some lawmakers over controversial issues, such as abortion, immigration, and climate change.
To avoid a government shutdown, which would have occurred on Friday at midnight if no spending bill was passed, Congress decided to pass a stopgap measure that would extend the current funding levels for most agencies until March 8, 2024, and for some agencies until March 1, 2024. The stopgap measure also included some additional funding for some urgent needs, such as combating the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting the Afghan refugees, and addressing the supply chain crisis.
The stopgap measure passed the Senate by a vote of 77-18 and the House by a vote of 314-108. President Joe Biden signed it into law on Thursday night, just hours before the deadline.
The Next Steps
The stopgap measure gives Congress more time to work on the full-year spending package, which is expected to be completed by early March. However, the task will not be easy, as lawmakers will have to overcome the remaining hurdles and disagreements over the spending bills.
In addition, Congress will also have to deal with other pressing issues, such as the voting rights legislation, the infrastructure bill, and the social spending bill, which are part of Biden’s domestic agenda. These bills have been stalled in the Senate, where the Democrats have a slim majority and face opposition from the Republicans and some moderate Democrats.
Congress will also have to address the debt ceiling issue again, as the current suspension will expire on Dec. 16, 2024. If the debt ceiling is not raised or suspended by then, the government will run out of money to pay its bills and obligations, which could trigger a default and a financial crisis.
Congress has a busy and challenging agenda ahead, and the short-term spending bill is only a temporary solution to avoid a shutdown. Whether Congress can deliver on its promises and priorities remains to be seen.