House and Senate leaders agree on $1.66 trillion spending limit. Will Congress manage to avoid a government shutdown?

House Speaker-elect Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., addresses members of Congress in Washington on Oct. 25, 2023. Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on topline spending levels for the current fiscal year 2024 that could help avoid a partial government shutdown later this month. Funding is set to lapse Jan. 19 for some agencies and Feb. 2 for others.
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After months of negotiations, House and Senate leaders reached an agreement Sunday on total spending levels to fund the government in 2024. But the possibility of a shutdown still looms.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., agreed on a $1.59 trillion topline for fiscal year 2024. This includes $886 billion in defense spending and $704 billion in nondefense, Johnson said in a “Dear Colleagues” letter, obtained by Punchbowl News. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has also indicated he backs the deal.

The speaker said the agreement slashes the Senate’s proposed appropriations by $30 billion, noting that the numbers fall in line with the spending caps set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, negotiated by President Joe Biden and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., when suspending the debt ceiling.

But as CNN reported, both sides of the aisle agreed to a side deal worth $69 billion, bringing the nondefense spending total to $773 billion and the top line to $1.659 trillion.

Johnson said that while the “final spending levels will not satisfy everyone, and they do not cut as much spending as many of us would like,” they will help the government to continue functioning and prioritize “conservative objectives” as well as crucial policies included within the spending bills.

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The House speaker said Congress “must move quickly” to finish the appropriations process, which requires the support of both Republicans and Democrats, but hardline conservatives are pushing back as the two funding deadlines — Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 — to avoid a shutdown are fast approaching.

Utah House delegation responds

Utah Rep. Celeste Maloy, a member of Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation, spoke to the Deseret News on Thursday about the importance of deciding on a topline spending number. She said she is grateful Johnson prioritized budget talks over the December recess so Congress has time to hammer out a final deal in coming days.

“The top line numbers include cuts, so that is in keeping with what we promised the American people,” Maloy said in a statement given to the Deseret News. “I talked to appropriators over the weekend who were optimistic that if they got a top line number this week they could have bills ready to pass before (government funding) expires, so this is a positive development.”

Rep. John Curtis, who represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District and recently announced he is running for the Senate, also said he will support the compromise figure. He used a football analogy to explain why he thinks it is a win that Republicans were able to get spending cuts this year, and where they should go from here.

“Yes, I would absolutely like to cut more, and we need to cut more,” he said. “But we got a first down. This is not about a Hail Mary pass. This is about, you get a first down so you can stay on the field — and then get another first down, and then get another first down.”

He later clarified that negotiations on the budget bill are ongoing and he’ll consider all aspects of the legislation before making a final decision on how he’ll vote.

Rep. Blake Moore, who represents the 1st District and is in House leadership, showed support for the speaker in his statement.

“Despite negotiating with a Democrat-controlled White House and Senate, Speaker Johnson worked to deliver a top-line budget number that will be the first actual reduction in discretionary spending in over a decade,” he said. “This budget number accelerates a reduction in nondefense federal spending by an additional $16 billion that what was agreed upon in the Fiscal Responsibility Act while fully funding our national security needs and providing our servicemembers a 5.2% pay raise.”

A spokesperson for Rep. Burgess Owens said he will release a statement after giving the agreement a closer look.

The House Freedom Caucus wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the deal is “worse than we thought,” before calling the negotiations a “total failure.”

Before the agreement among congressional leaders, the caucus in a press release said it was “extremely troubled that House Republicans” were even considering such a deal that would allow Democrats to spend more than the cap limits allow. The Freedom Caucus called for the limits set in 2023 to be adhered to.

According to DC Examiner reporter Reese Gorman, many of the Freedom Caucus members are upset because the deal is similar to what McCarthy put together, leading to his ousting as speaker. A member who voted to take away McCarthy’s gavel said the Republican Conference “failed to get a more conservative speaker.”

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Rep. Mike Collins, R-Ga., chimed in, saying, “Are we learning that negotiating with the Democrats in the White House and Senate with a slim majority is hard and you can’t get everything you want, no matter who is in the Speaker’s office?”

The slimmer majority in the House as of late is also a barrier that Johnson faces. Rep. George Santos of New York was expelled and McCarthy retired in December. Meanwhile, Johnson’s right-hand man, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana is out of office until February as he recovers from a stem cell transplant after completing chemotherapy.

These absences and exits will make it tough for the Republican Conference to pass the spending deal without Democratic support, especially since hardline conservatives have voiced their opposition to any spending bill that doesn’t include hefty cuts.

Schumer said his party has clearly told Johnson “that Democrats will not support including poison pill policy changes.”

“By securing the $772.7 billion for non-defense discretionary funding, we can protect key domestic priorities like veterans benefits, health care and nutrition assistance from the draconian cuts sought by right-wing extremists,” he said in a joint statement with Jeffries.

Still, Johnson in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” said he was against authorizing new funding unless transformational immigration policy changes were on the table.

“I think anyone with common sense would tell you that you cannot throw more money at a bad system,” he said. “We don’t want to empower more of this.”

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Johnson said he is staying firm on his demand for the passage of HR2, or the Secure the Border Act. This legislation would restart construction of the border wall, deploy more border patrol agents, strengthen laws against human trafficking, and end the Biden administration’s catch-and-release policy while creating a stricter asylum process.

Meanwhile, the White House showed appreciation for the deal reached on Sunday, which not only is the first step to avoid a government shutdown and protect national security but also falls in line with the spending levels both parties agreed upon last year.

“Now, congressional Republicans must do their job, stop threatening to shut down the government, and fulfill their basic responsibility to fund critical domestic and national security priorities, including my supplemental request. It’s time for them to act,” the statement said.

The House returns from the holidays on Tuesday.

Contributing: Brigham Tomco, Suzanne Bates