Congressional leaders unveil bill to fund government, Johnson and Schumer both claim wins

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Lawmakers are finally rolling out a bill to fund part of the federal government for fiscal year 2024 on Sunday, bringing Congress closer to averting a partial government shutdown come March 8.

If passed it will take Congress another step toward ending a battle that’s led to historic levels of dysfunction, particularly within the House of Representatives.

The 1,050-page legislation is a package of six bills dealing with departments and agencies whose funding expires on Friday – dealing with agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); the Departments of Justice and Commerce; Energy and Water Development; the Department of the Interior; and Transportation and housing.

Both Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were quick to claim victory after the deal was announced.

Johnson’s office touted modest cuts to key agencies that have been criticized by conservatives, including a 10% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a 6% cut to the FBI, and a 7% cut to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

On the policy front, Republican leaders say it would also prevent the Department of Justice from going after parents who speak out at school board meetings.

The fact that the bill also separates the 12 total appropriations bills into at least two separate packages is also a big win for Johnson, who has pledged to avoid a massive ‘omnibus’ spending bill that nearly all Republicans have opposed. It’s the first time since 2018 that Congress did not pass an all-in-one bill, according to Johnson’s office.

Schumer, meanwhile, said in a statement that the bill ‘fully funds’ a federal food program aimed at women, infants and children (WIC) and includes infrastructure investments.

Both touted additional help for U.S. military veterans. 

‘This legislation forbids the Department of Justice from targeting parents exercising their right to free speech before school boards, while it blocks the Biden Administration from stripping Second Amendment rights from veterans,’ Johnson said in a statement. ‘It imposes deep cuts to the EPA, ATF, and FBI, which under the Biden Administration have threatened our freedoms and our economy, while it fully funds veterans’ health care.’

Schumer said the bill ‘maintains the aggressive investments Democrats secured for American families, American workers, and America’s national defense.’

‘Among the good things Democrats helped secure in this package I am particularly proud that it fully funds the vital WIC program, makes critical investments in our infrastructure, and strengthens programs that benefit services for our veterans,’ he said.

Congressional leaders have been forced to extend fiscal year 2023’s funding priorities four times since Sept. 30 over a myriad of disagreements over spending levels and government policy. 

Most of the conflict has come from GOP hardliners in the House who have leveraged their conference’s razor-thin majority in a bid to force severe spending cuts and passage of conservative policies, even as Democrats controlling the Senate and White House have rejected virtually all of their major demands.

That infighting led to the first-ever ouster of a House Speaker when a small group of conservatives joined all House Democrats to vote out ex-Speaker Kevin McCarthy for working with Schumer to avoid a government shutdown late last year.

GOP hardliners have also lodged protest votes that have effectively halted House floor activity in opposition to House Republican leaders’ decisions on federal funding.

While Sunday’s release of bill text is a significant step to putting that fight to rest, the war is far from over – Congress has until March 22 to fund the remaining portions of the government. That group of bills, which includes military spending and homeland security, is expected to be far more difficult given the vast policy disagreements between Republicans and Democrats there.

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