Appropriations talks chug along; stopgap eyed as backup plan

Aidan Quigley, Paul M. Krawzak, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

Lawmakers are aiming to roll out the first spending package Sunday ahead of the March 1 deadline for agencies covered under four of the annual appropriations bills, though there are still significant areas of disagreement between the parties.

Congressional leaders hope to announce something Sunday night, a source familiar with the talks said Thursday. Agencies covered by the fiscal 2024 Agriculture, Military Construction-VA, Energy-Water and Transportation-HUD spending bills face the March 1 deadline, with the other eight bills expiring March 8.

While lawmakers hope to finish the appropriations process by the March 1 and March 8 deadlines, the tight timetable remaining is necessitating consideration of short-term stopgap options.

Another continuing resolution that would push back the deadlines by up to 14 days have been discussed as a backup option, sources familiar with the talks say. Specifically, a March 22 deadline is being eyed for the eight bills that would expire March 8, which are generally viewed as much heavier lift than the first batch.

But there are still issues even with the first four.

Of the four bills, Energy-Water is closest to being wrapped up, sources familiar with the talks say. However, the other three are still facing major outstanding questions, particularly as appropriators await guidance from leadership on policy riders.

House Republicans have not given up their push for conservative policy riders in the bills, while most Democrats say they will not accept any new riders. Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., is under heavy pressure from members of the House Freedom Caucus to ensure that their policy priorities — outlined in a letter sent to him Wednesday — are included.

If not, the Freedom Caucus members wrote, they prefer a yearlong stopgap measure that would trigger steep across-the-board spending cuts. But there’s little chance of such a bill passing the House, let alone the Democrat-controlled Senate.

This fight is playing out in the first tranche of bills, as the parties remain at a standstill over abortion and gun policy riders Republicans are pushing for.


The chamber’s Military Construction-VA bill would block the Department of Veterans Affairs from implementing a rule that would remove exclusions of abortion and related counseling services from veterans’ benefit packages.

On firearms, House Republicans amended the Military Construction-VA bill on the floor to prevent the VA from sending veterans’ names to the Justice Department for a criminal background check if they asked for help managing their finances. The National Rifle Association-backed amendment won a handful of Democratic votes on the floor, including from vulnerable incumbents.

And in their version of the Agriculture bill, House Republicans would reinstate an in-person dispensing requirement for the abortion drug mifepristone, for example. That provision did not receive support from some moderate Republicans and played a role in the Agriculture bill’s 191-237 defeat on the floor in September.

Another outstanding dispute in the Agriculture bill are riders that would block the Food and Drug Administration from implementing new rules to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, and from proposing a rule to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes.

The Transportation-HUD bill is another puzzle appropriators are working on, with funding and policy issues remaining, sources familiar with the talks say.

One outstanding matter is the $970,000 earmark that Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., requested for a transitional housing program at the LGBT Center of Greater Reading. Republicans eliminated that earmark and two similar others from the Transportation-HUD bill, though the other two were added back in the Senate bill.

Lawmakers are pushing full steam ahead on negotiations as they aim to finally wrap up the appropriations process, nearly five months into fiscal 2024.

And both chambers have tight schedules next week, the last before the first deadline. Senators must deal with the House’s articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas after their return Monday, and the House isn’t back until Wednesday.

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