House passes first appropriations bills ahead of shutdown deadline

The House passed the first half of its annual appropriations bills on Wednesday, marking the first step toward avoiding a government shutdown that is scheduled to start over the weekend.  

Lawmakers passed the spending bill with a 339-85 vote, overcoming the two-thirds threshold needed to advance the lower chamber. The spending legislation passed after overwhelming support from House Democrats who countered the 83 Republicans who voted against the measure, helping push them past the finish line.

“If there’s one thing consistent within the 118th Congress, it’s that Democrats are the only adults in the chamber,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-CA) said ahead of the vote on Wednesday.

The legislation, referred to as “minibus” legislation, combines funding for six of the government’s must-pass spending bills ahead of the first shutdown deadline later this week and adheres to the $1.59 trillion topline number that was negotiated between House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) earlier this year.

The minibus, which funds the government through the rest of the fiscal year, includes funding for Agriculture; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; Energy and Water; Interior and Environment; and Commerce, Justice, and Science.

The remaining six appropriations bills are set to expire on March 22.

The proposed bill includes several spending cuts, including a 10% decrease in funding to the Environmental Protection Agency, a 7% decrease in funding to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and a 6% decrease in funding to the FBI.

Republican leaders framed the bill as a win for their party, citing several policy provisions that were included in the final text. 

One such win includes a provision that would prohibit the Department for Veterans Affairs from flagging a veteran to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check without consent from a judge, a huge policy victory for Republicans. 

However, several conservatives opposed the bill over several earmarks that were included in the final legislation. The minibus includes more than 6,000 earmarks worth more than $12.6 billion that are facing challenges in both the House and Senate. 

Conservative Republicans in the House also rejected the bill over the process by which it was negotiated. The minibus legislation was negotiated by party leaders behind closed doors, and the text wasn’t made available until Sunday afternoon, giving lawmakers just three days to read through the 1,050-page proposal. 

“Even in the face of $34.4 trillion in national debt, the omnibus will bust the bipartisan spending caps signed into law less than a year ago and is loaded with hundreds of pages of earmarks worth billions,” the House Freedom Caucus wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “Despite giving Democrats higher spending levels, the omnibus text released so far punts on nearly every single Republican policy priority.” 

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The spending bill now heads to the Senate for a vote before being sent to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. If even one senator objects, it could delay passage for days before it’s brought to the floor for a final vote. 

The government is scheduled to enter a partial shutdown at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday.

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