The U.S. House of Representatives voted 336-95 on Tuesday to approve a plan to avert a partial government shutdown on Saturday but at the same time push off contentious debates over spending priorities until early 2024.
Current funding for all government agencies expires at midnight on Friday, forcing Congress and the White House to reach a short-term deal to keep the government running.
The House approved a proposal by new Speaker Mike Johnson, leader of the narrow Republican majority in the chamber, that extends funding for some government agencies through mid-January and others until early February.
By those two dates, Congress will have to debate and decide on spending levels throughout the government through next September, or again approve another short-term deal.
In passing his plan, Johnson received more votes from Democrats — 209 — than Republicans — 127. Opposing it were 93 Republicans and two Democrats.
The Senate is likely to also approve the proposal and send it to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Johnson has drawn the ire of a right-wing faction of his Republican colleagues because his budget plan does not include the spending cuts or policy changes they seek. Several of the archconservatives made clear they would vote against Johnson’s plan, forcing him to look for opposition Democratic votes to assure its passage.
It was just such a scenario in late September when then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy angered the right-wing bloc by winning Democratic votes to push through the seven-week spending plan that expires Friday at midnight. Days after that political fight, eight right-wing Republicans joined the unanimous Democratic caucus in ousting McCarthy from his speakership, a first in U.S. history.
There is no sign that Johnson faces a similar fate, since he is a stalwart conservative himself, and his like-minded colleagues appear, for the moment, to be giving him leeway in reaching a deal to keep the government open.
Johnson said his “laddered” funding expiration dates in early 2024 are intended to avoid a Washington tradition: passage of a massive spending measure just before the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, appropriations bills that are so lengthy that few lawmakers have had time to read and digest them as Congress rushes to adjourn for its end-of-year recess.
In the latest dispute, the hard-right Republican faction in the House has demanded spending cuts that more moderate Republican lawmakers and the virtually unanimous caucus of House Democrats, along with the Democratic-controlled Senate and Biden, have rejected.
Instead, Johnson’s plan would keep spending levels at the same level as in the fiscal year that ended September 30. Johnson also rejected attempts to include divisive cultural issues favored by some hard-right conservatives but also did not include billions of dollars in new financial assistance Biden sought for Ukraine and Israel as they fight their respective wars against Russia and Hamas militants.
Congress is expected to consider more funding for Ukraine and Israel in separate legislation in the coming weeks.
Without broad new funding for government agencies by midnight Friday, governmental operations that are deemed nonessential would be halted, such as camping at national parks, advice to taxpayers and some scientific research.
In recent days, credit rating agencies have downgraded the government’s credit rating because of the continuing budget uncertainty, a move that could lead to higher borrowing costs for the United States, where the national debt is now approaching $34 trillion.