House passes $1.2 trillion spending package hours before shutdown deadline

Washington — The House passed a massive spending package on Friday to fully fund the government through September, sending it to the Senate ahead of a midnight deadline to avert a partial shutdown.

The House approved the $1.2 trillion package, which was unveiled early Thursday, in a vote of 286 to 134. The package wraps six spending bills into one to fund about three-quarters of the government until the end of the fiscal year. Another package funding the rest of the government cleared Congress two weeks ago. 

A majority of Republicans voted against the measure, with House conservatives objecting to the funding levels in the agreement that House Speaker Mike Johnson reached with Democratic leadership in the Senate. The bill includes money for the departments of State, Homeland Security, Defense, Labor and Health and Human Services, as well as funds for foreign operations, financial services and the legislative branch.

The frenzied rush to fund the government was the latest example of internal divisions within the increasingly narrow Republican majority that has forced party leaders to rely on Democratic votes to get legislation passed, much to the dismay of conservatives. Democrats voted for Friday’s bill by a margin of 185 in favor to 22 against, compared to the 101 to 112 split among Republicans.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, teased a possible no-confidence vote in Johnson, filing a motion to vacate that the House could be forced to consider after its upcoming two-week recess. The motion is the same maneuver that a handful of Republicans used to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California from the speakership in October amid GOP divisions about how to handle spending. 

“I filed the motion to vacate today, but it’s more of a warning,” Greene said after the House vote, adding that “it’s time for our conference to choose a new speaker.” 

The spending deal

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson makes his way to the House floor on Friday, March 22, 2024.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson makes his way to the House floor on Friday, March 22, 2024.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Passage in the House moves Congress one step closer to ending a fight over spending that has persisted six months into the fiscal year, one that has forced lawmakers to repeatedly rely on short-term funding extensions to keep the government operating since October.

Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, waived a self-imposed 72-hour rule that gives lawmakers time to read legislation before a vote in order to get it across the finish line and send it to the Senate, giving the upper chamber just hours before the clock strikes midnight. 

Senate rules that allow a single lawmaker to object to expediting a bill’s passage could push a vote into the weekend. Republicans are also demanding votes on amendments in exchange for speeding up the process, as they did with the last funding bill. 

A brief lapse in funding over the weekend may not cause disruptions. When President Biden signed the first funding package hours after a similar shutdown deadline earlier this month, the Office of Management and Budget said agencies would not shut down and could continue their normal operations, since it was clear that a resolution was imminent.

After delays caused by disputes over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees released the second package in the early morning hours of Thursday. 

Republicans and Democrats both claimed victories in the package. 

Democrats touted funding for child care and education programs, medical research, mental health care and an extension of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, an initiative known as PEPFAR that is credited with saving 25 million lives worldwide. 

“We had to work within difficult fiscal constraints — but this bipartisan compromise will keep our country moving forward,” Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democratic appropriator in the Senate, said in a statement. 

Republicans highlighted funding for Border Patrol agents and more detention beds, as well as a ban on funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, the main humanitarian agency operating in Gaza, through March 2025.

The bill also includes several conservative policy wins. It prevents the federal government from banning gas stoves, puts restrictions on which flags can be flown over U.S. diplomatic facilities and maintains a provision banning federal funds from covering abortion services.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, told reporters on Thursday that an “overwhelming majority” of conservative policy riders did not make it into the bill. 

Facing criticism from conservatives, who deemed the bill a failure, Johnson said the package “represents the best achievable outcome in a divided government.” 

Republican Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee said the bill’s passage puts the GOP majority at risk. 

“Some will say that the Republicans are in the majority in the House, but it’s clear that the Democrats own the speaker’s gavel,” Ogles said, adding that it’s passage “will likely determine who controls the House of Representatives, and this bill will most certainly determine who the next speaker is.” 

Alan He and Ellis Kim contributed reporting.

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