Biden signs $1.2T funding package after partial shutdown thwarted

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President Joe Biden on Saturday signed a colossal $1.2 trillion spending package after Congress concluded a tumultuous government funding cycle and skirted a shutdown after midnight.

The Senate cleared the six-bill funding bundle in a 74-24 vote early Saturday morning, following votes on a dozen Republican amendments and proposals, none of which were successful. The House approved the package earlier on Friday, with more Democrats voting for the massive measure than Republicans as Speaker Mike Johnsonfaces a new threat to his gavel.

Biden signed the bill Saturday afternoon, calling its passage "a compromise, which means neither side got everything it wanted," according to a White House release.

Almost halfway through the fiscal year, the legislation will deliver fresh budgets and a steady funding stream to the Pentagon and many non-defense agencies through September. The final passage vote caps off an especially rancorous government funding battle that began more than a year ago when House conservatives started demanding deep spending cuts from then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, despite the reality that the Democrat-led Senate and Biden would never agree to severe reductions.

“And after all of that delay — how different ultimately was the outcome?” Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray(D-Wash.) said Friday on the floor.

In the end, the funding legislation hews closely to the spending levels McCarthy struck with Biden last summer under the bipartisan debt limit agreement, forged before the former speaker disavowed those totals at the behest of his right flank and still lost his gavel last fall. The funding package also leaves out the controversial policy stipulations House Republicans included in their own versions of the funding bills.

It got Congress “nowhere,” Murray said, “when House Republicans stopped everything to renegotiate the deal they struck with the president, when they insisted on partisan poison pills, when they listened to the loudest voices on the far right — who, let’s be real, were never going to vote for any bipartisan funding bill.”

As part of the deal to vote on passage of the package, Senate leaders agreed to hold a vote by April 19 on a bill from Sen. Mike Crapo(R-Idaho) that would bar the Biden administration from carrying out new EPA rules on tailpipe emissions.

Before final passage, the Senate defeated amendments that would block the release of special immigrant visas, bar the Biden administration from waiving sanctions on Iran and force DHS to detain immigrants accused of crimes like shoplifting. The Senate also rejected an amendment that would cut off federal funding for schools that allow transgender students to play on women’s sports teams, as well as a proposal to bar immigrants accused of assaulting a law enforcement officer from becoming legal U.S. residents or citizens.

Adoption of any amendments would have prompted a multi-day government funding lapse, since the package would be sent back to the House, which adjourned for a two-week recess. Murray opposed many of the amendments with the same message: "Just like the previous vote, this is a procedural vote that will cause a shutdown."

The spending package could be the last government funding action seen in Congress for a while, at least until lawmakers are likely forced to pass a stopgap spending bill later this year that heads off yet another shutdown threat at the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. With a presidential battle looming in November, serious work on funding bills for next fiscal year is unlikely until after Election Day.

“The only problem we’ve got now is just the calendar — going into the election year,” said Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the top Republican on the appropriations panel that funds the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects.

Boozman predicted deal-making for the upcoming fiscal year will still be less challenging than what appropriators have just struggled through.

“With a new House, it just takes time to get everything settled. But going through this, I think the next go-round it’ll be easier,” he said.

In the House, Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart(R-Fla.) said negotiations on the funding package were especially difficult because Democrats are new to their role as the chamber’s minority party.

“It is always difficult for those who lose the majority to kind of understand that they’ve lost control,” said Díaz-Balart, who chairs the appropriations panel that funds the State Department and Foreign Operations. “It was a very difficult process. Obviously. It’s taken six months.”

Overall defense funding will increase by about 3 percent under the package, while non-defense funding will remain about even with current levels, because of those bipartisan budget caps that Biden and Johnson reinforced in January.

Both sides celebrated several funding increases for their respective priorities under those tight budget constraints.

Republicans lauded spending bumps for the Pentagon and DHS, including funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold 42,000 people in detention at one time and for 22,000 Border Patrol agents. Democrats touted increased funding for schools serving low-income students, Head Start and child care, along with boosts for research on cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Both the House and Senate are now headed out for a two-week recess. When they return, other priorities will quickly consume both chambers.

House Republicans will be under growing pressure to take up the Senate-passed foreign aid funding package, for example, and Johnson may have to defend his speakership after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene(R-Ga.) filed a motion to strip him of his gavel on Friday.

“All the precious rules are being broken," Greene said earlier in the week, deriding the funding package before announcing her plan to challenge Johnson's post.

House Republicans will soon look to elect a new top appropriator, after House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger(R-Texas) announced plans Friday to give up her gavel early, asking her colleagues to choose a successor soon so she can step down. Rep. Tom Cole(R-Okla.), a senior Republican appropriator, is widely seen as the frontrunner for the position.