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The End Is Nigh: Funding Battle Draws to a Close as Shutdown Looms

They might not make the deadline – but close enough is good enough.

by | Mar 22, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Opinion, Politics

Congress unveiled a sprawling legislative package worth $1.2 trillion on Thursday, March 21 – just a day before government funding runs out – and adjourned without a vote. The deadline to avoid partial government shutdown is midnight tonight. Will they make it? Maybe – but even if they don’t, it probably won’t make much difference. While the money officially runs out tonight, it’s Friday; outside of law enforcement, most of the government doesn’t work weekends anyway. As long as the full-year funding bills are passed over the weekend or early in the week, it will probably be close enough.

Shutdown Looms – Well, Sort Of

“Close don’t count in baseball,” the late Frank Robinson famously said. “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” But in truth, close counts in a few more situations than that – and government funding is one of them. If lawmakers don’t quite make the 11:59 p.m. Friday deadline, the parts of the federal government that weren’t addressed earlier this month will technically run out of money. However, if it’s resolved before Monday – or even shortly after – then no one is sent home or works without pay. And that’s what a so-called shutdown really is. IRS workers are furloughed, parks are closed, and the military and border agents work without pay for a while.

It isn’t good for those affected, to be sure – but it’s far from an actual shutdown of the US government, which might actually do some good if only it meant cutting some bloat. But those who work without pay are inevitably reimbursed when funding is renewed, and even those who are sent home are often paid for their time off. In then end, it’s the American taxpayer who ends up with the bill, as always. If the situation can be resolved over the weekend, then the practical outcome would essentially be the same as if the package were passed on time.

And that seems to be the likely outcome. While the text of the $1.2 trillion spending package was released Thursday, House Republicans typically insist on having the text of bills 72 hours before any final vote. The 1,012-page bill was published shortly after 3 a.m. Eastern, but Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) has hinted that lawmakers may not get until 3 a.m. Sunday to read and make a decision. Instead, it seems Speaker Johnson will try to waive the 72-hour rule to enable a vote today – and Senate Democrats appear willing to help him.

What Made the Cut?

Defense spending is always the leading item in the annual budget. The Congressional Budget Office estimates it accounts for about one-sixth of federal funding. This year’s bill is no exception. The $824 billion for defense is the largest in this round and marks an increase of about 3% over last year. This includes $287 billion for operation and maintenance, $176 billion for military personnel, $172 billion for munitions and procurement, and $148.3 billion for R&D.

The TSA will get more than $10.5 billion this year – an increase of $1.2 billion over 2023’s funding. More than $1 billion will go to maintaining an investment program started last year by congressional Democrats to expand and protect TSA workers’ rights. The Department of Homeland Security makes out pretty well, too. The package includes $490 million to hire an additional 22,000 Border Patrol agents, which Republicans tout as the “highest level ever funded.” There’s also money for another 41,500 detention beds and even an increase in Border Patrol overtime pay.

Early childhood education funding also saw an increase of about $1 billion over last year, which includes grants for Head Start and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Health Resources and Services Administration, historically black colleges and universities, and grants to improve election security at the state level all received increases this year, as well.

Though this latest deal has reignited talks among some in the GOP to oust the speaker, Johnson is confident he has the votes to pass these bills; it now seems less a question of if and more of when. Will the House pass the year’s final spending package today, or will lawmakers be putting in some overtime of their own?

Read More From James Fite

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