House passes government funding, averting shutdown threat

The House passed a short-term government funding patch on Friday, sending the measure to President Joe Biden hours before a shutdown would’ve kicked in at midnight.

The lower chamber cleared the measure in a 230-201 vote, with only 10 Republicans supporting it. The stopgap funds the government through the midterm elections until Dec. 16, in addition to providing billions in additional Ukraine aid and disaster relief. The Senate approved the bill on Thursday afternoon, with lawmakers fleeing the Capitol shortly afterward, eager to begin their extended break before the midterms.

The temporary funding package buys time for congressional negotiations on a broader government spending deal that would increase agency budgets in the new fiscal year, which begins on Saturday. But much hinges on the outcome of the elections, which will determine the makeup of Congress in 2023, including how both parties want to flex their leverage in spending talks.

“This legislation ensures no American loses access to vital services while we finish negotiations” on the broader funding discussions, said House Rules Chair Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

Before the vote, McGovern excoriated Republicans for opposing the stopgap as Hurricane Ian tears across Florida. While the bill doesn’t specifically include funding for that storm’s recovery, it contains billions of dollars for states grappling with natural disasters across the country, in addition to extra flexibility to spend disaster assistance.

“Do not vote against additional funding to help people recover from hurricane damage,” McGovern said. “Please, especially my Republican friends from Florida. A vote against this [bill] is a vote against funding for help with hurricane recovery in your own state.”

The top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Kay Granger, who helped negotiate the bill, joined the swath of GOP members who opposed it. Asked if she could explain why she voted against it, the Texas lawmaker replied Friday: “No, I can’t.”

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro said congressional leaders may also have to consider additional disaster relief funding before the end of the year.

“We will see. We’re trying to be very responsive to the needs of Alaska, Puerto Rico, Florida,” the Connecticut Democrat said.

“Look, I remember Hurricane Sandy and what happened to my state,” DeLauro said of the 2012 storm that slammed into the East Coast. “We waited seven or eight months for relief. We should not hold people hostage. It’s too important.”

Republican Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida are already asking appropriators to drum up an aid package for the state “at the earliest opportunity,” noting that Hurricane Ian “will be remembered and studied as one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the United States.”

The vote is one of the House’s last acts before leaving town until the Nov. 8 midterms. And negotiations on the full-year funding measure likely won’t fully begin until after those elections.

Some House Republicans — mostly conservatives aligned with the House Freedom Caucus — have promised to reject any spending package that comes together before December, assuming their party will retake the House next year and acquire more sway in funding negotiations. They plan to push for the restoration of Trump-era spending levels.

But Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and his GOP counterpart, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, are retiring at the end of this year — ramping up pressure for one last agreement between the two long-time appropriators.

“Some of it will depend on the election,” said Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, the top GOP appropriator on the spending subpanel that handles veterans’ affairs, of a year-end spending deal.

“I know Senator Shelby and Leahy both want to get it done,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s more pressure, but they’re just two people who have a history of being doers and working hard to reach deals.”

In a floor speech on Thursday, Leahy said the stopgap is “only a temporary measure,” stressing that he wants a deal before the end of the 117th Congress.

“Running on autopilot after December with rising inflation would be irresponsible,” he said. “It would leave priorities, of both Republicans and Democrats, underfunded and under resourced.”

Congress isn’t scheduled to return until mid-November. Before departing on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned, “Members should be prepared for an extremely — underline extremely — busy agenda in the last two months of this Congress.”

Bipartisan spending talks in both chambers have yet to begin in earnest. Democrats are more inclined to reach a deal before the end of the year, while they still hold majorities in both chambers, albeit slim. Shelby has said appropriations staff are communicating, but negotiations likely won’t heat up until the midterms are in the rear view.

“They’re working all the time and you know, getting here and there behind the scenes,” Shelby said. “It’s two steps forward, three steps backwards, sideways, you know.”

The stopgap funding measure provides more than $12 billion for Ukraine to maintain its momentum in fending off Russian attacks. The bill also includes $1 billion in heating assistance for low-income families, $20 million for the water crisis in Jackson, Miss., billions in disaster aid and more than $112 million for federal court security.

Folded into the bill is a five-year reauthorization of the user fee programs that fund much of the FDA’s work, in addition to extra flexibility for FEMA to spend at a higher rate through the Disaster Relief Fund. That fund currently has about $15 billion, as federal officials rush to respond to devastating hurricanes that have slammed into Florida and Puerto Rico.

Sarah Ferris and Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.

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