US House panel approves four funding bills; government shutdown deadline approaches

September 24, 2023 7:20 am

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Rules Committee on Saturday voted, 9-2, to tee up four appropriations bills for debate on the full House floor, the latest move in Republicans’ last-ditch bid to prevent government shutdowns after a Sept. 30 deadline.

The committee’s action, on a rare Saturday session, sets rules for debating the four bills covering fiscal 2024 funding for the departments of Defense, Agriculture, State and Homeland Security.

It was unclear whether enough Republicans will vote on the House floor for the rules, which must be established before the House can proceed to the funding bills themselves.

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Infighting between far right and moderate House Republicans has so far stymied attempts to advance most legislation that would keep the government running when the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. Their party holds a narrow 221-212 majority in the House and can afford very few defections.

A short-term spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, will almost certainly be needed to avert many federal agencies from suspending operations when existing monies expire in a week. A group of far-right Republicans has fought against this, seeing it as endorsing government spending they consider too high.

“To talk about a CR (continuing resolution) is too premature,” Republican Representative Andy Ogles told reporters outside a House Rules Committee meeting on Friday ahead of the vote. “We have a task at hand which is to pass 12 appropriations bills and that’s what we need to focus on.”

Instead, House Republicans have prepared the four separate, full-year spending bills that are certain to be rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate. So far, the House has passed only one of 12 appropriations bills for the fiscal year, which the Senate has not planned to take up.

“The goal is to try to move as many (bills) as possible to show the good faith effort on both sides” of the Republican caucus, Representative Marc Molinaro, a moderate freshman Republican, told reporters on Friday.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said the House may begin advancing the four bills on Tuesday as he seeks leverage in negotiations with the Senate. He is hoping the bills will give him enough room to advance a short-term spending bill to keep the government running through Oct. 31, though a handful of Republicans have said they oppose a short-term funding bill.

The vote by the Rules Committee comes two days after five Republicans joined with Democrats to block a procedural vote on the defense spending bill. It was the third time the party had failed to advance that legislation, which has broad support from Republicans.

If Congress cannot agree on a spending plan, government activities will be shuttered or limited.

Former President Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election, has publicly supported a shutdown. During Trump’s four-year presidency, the government closed three times.

A shutdown is not completely inevitable. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, scheduled a procedural vote for Tuesday evening to begin advancing a stopgap funding bill.

If that passes, McCarthy would decide on bringing it up for a vote in the House, risking the wrath of his conservative flank. That could potentially spark a move to remove McCarthy from his speakership, leading to further chaos in the House.