Outside the Senate Chamber of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images).
WASHINGTON — A group of U.S. Senate Democrats last week approved funding levels for dozens of federal departments for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 — setting up a likely clash with House Republicans as a deadline approaches later this year.
The move to advance the spending plan was essential if Congress is going to avoid a partial government shutdown or a series of stopgap funding bills. But the levels agreed to by the Senate Appropriations Committee are significantly different from the ones their House Republican counterparts adopted last week. The panel approved the numbers following a party-line 15-13 vote.
The next steps will include the panel debating all 12 annual government spending bills and later moving to negotiate those with the House. If Congress doesn’t pass all of the bills by Jan. 1, a provision from the debt limit bill would trigger a 1% across-the-board spending cut until Congress approves all the funding measures.
Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, noted the panel is restricted in what it can spend by the debt limit and budget agreement that President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy brokered earlier this year.
That agreement set total spending for the fiscal year set to begin Oct. 1 at $1.59 trillion, with $886.3 billion going toward defense and $703.7 billion for domestic spending accounts.
Murray said she is concerned about those limits, and indicated the committee will take up additional government spending bills to address national disaster response, border security and to boost aid to Ukraine.
“The challenges we face under the limits imposed by the debt ceiling deal do not get any easier and they don’t get any better if we start going backwards, or if we abandon our return to regular order, or we write unserious bills.,” Murray said.
“And as we all know, chaos only helps those who want to see our government shut down, including our adversaries — like the governments of Russia and China — who are rooting for Congress to descend into chaos,” Murray added.
Collins votes against spending plan
Maine Republican Susan Collins, the ranking member, said she couldn’t support the spending levels due to inadequate funding for defense and Homeland Security, though she thanked Murray for moving forward with the process.
“Due to the inadequacy of funding for Homeland Security and the need for additional defense funding, unfortunately, I cannot support the 302(b) allocations,” Collins said, referring to the technical name for the dozen spending levels.
But Collins agreed with a comment from Murray that the allocations the committee approved Thursday “are not the final story.”
In the coming weeks, Collins said, she hopes Democrats and Republicans will reach an agreement “to ensure that our military and the Department of Homeland Security have the resources they need to keep our country safe.”
“In the meantime, I want to second Chair Murray’s conclusion that we must continue to make progress in advancing the annual appropriations process in order to avoid a shutdown, a year-end omnibus, or damaging across-the-board funding cuts,” Collins added.
U.S. House Republicans on that chamber’s Appropriations Committee approved spending allocations for fiscal 2024 that are significantly lower than the spending levels included in the debt limit deal. That will make conferencing the bills later this year more challenging than had the House GOP written the bills to the numbers in the bipartisan agreement.
Here’s a look at what the Senate wants to spend during fiscal 2024:
Agriculture: Senators want to spend $25.9 billion in discretionary funds on the measure that provides for the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. That’s an increase from the $25.5 billion Congress approved for the current fiscal year. House Republicans proposed $17.8 billion.
Commerce-Justice-Science: Senators proposed $69.6 billion for the departments of Commerce and Justice, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation. That’s a decrease from $83.9 billion in current funding. House Republicans proposed $58.7 billion.
Defense: The Pentagon’s funding bill would get $823.3 billion during the upcoming fiscal year, an increase from $797.7 billion. The House GOP proposed $826.4 billion.
Energy-Water: The Senate panel approved $56.7 billion in spending for the bill that funds the Energy Department as well as more than a dozen agencies, including the Appalachian Regional Commission, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Denali Commission, Great Lakes Authority, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Tennessee Valley Authority.
The spending level is an increase from the current level of $54.7 billion. The House Appropriations Committee approved $52.4 billion.
Financial Services and General Government: Senators approved $16.8 billion, a decrease from the current funding level of $27.7 billion. House Republicans proposed $11.3 billion.
The bill funds the Treasury Department, federal judiciary and several agencies, including the Executive Office of the President, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, National Archives and Records Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Homeland Security: Senators approved $56.9 billion in discretionary spending for the bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security, which includes Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That’s a decrease from $60.7 billion in current funding. House Republicans proposed $62.8 billion.
Interior-Environment: The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $37.9 billion for the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service, Indian Health Service, Smithsonian Institution and a couple dozen other federal programs that are funded within the measure.
The proposed funding level would mark a decrease from the current spending level of $40.5 billion. The House panel proposed $25.4 billion.
Labor-Health and Human Services-Education: The Senate spending panel approved $195.2 billion in funding for the departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Labor.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, National Labor Relations Board and Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission are some of the smaller federal agencies that receive funding from the measure.
House Republicans proposed $147.1 billion for the bill, compared to $209.9 billion in current base discretionary spending.
Legislative Branch: Senators approved spending $6.8 billion on the measure, which funds the U.S. Capitol Police, the Government Accountability Office and the Library of Congress and other accounts. That’s roughly equal to the $6.9 billion current funding level and the $6.8 billion that the House panel approved.
Military Construction-VA: Senators approved spending $154.4 billion in discretionary spending on the measure that funds the Veterans Affairs Department and military construction projects. The current funding level is $135.2 billion in discretionary funding and House Republicans proposed $155.7 billion.
State-Foreign Operations: The State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, Peace Corps and several other programs would receive $58.4 billion during the upcoming fiscal year under the Senate proposal.
That’s a decrease from the current funding level of $61.8 billion. House Republicans approved $41.4 billion.
Transportation-HUD: Senators approved $88.1 billion for the Housing and Urban Development and Transportation departments. That would be a decrease from the current funding level of $90.96 billion. The House GOP allocated $65.2 billion.
The bill also funds the Federal Maritime Commission, National Transportation Safety Board and United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, among other smaller agencies.
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