Opinion: Senate, House Release Bipartisan Agreement to Fund Government as Shutdown Deadlines Loom

Negotiators in the Senate and House reached an agreement Sunday on a government funding top line, taking a crucial step toward avoiding a shutdown later in the month.

The bipartisan deal will set the discretionary spending by the federal government at a maximum level of $1.59 trillion, wrote GOP Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana in a letter to his House colleagues. The funding would include $704 billion for nondefense and $886 for defense spending, said Johnson.

The $1.59 trillion figure was part of a mandated agreement by the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) last year in a compromise reached during debt limit talks between Republican then-Speaker Kevin Johnson of California and President Joe Biden.

Democrat leaders said the final top line would include an additional $69 billion in discretionary nondefense funding that was part of Biden and McCarthy’s side deal during the talks. That would ultimately raise the total to around $1.66 trillion.

However, Speaker Johnson suggested the Sunday agreement would see additional cutbacks because of discretionary spending to offset the side deals.

“As has been widely reported, a list of extra-statutory adjustments was agreed upon by negotiators last summer. The agreement today achieves key modifications to the June framework that will secure more than $16 billion in additional spending cuts to offset the discretionary spending levels,” read Johnson’s letter.

“As you know, the Senate marked up their appropriations bills $14 billion above the FRA levels and the adjustments. The agreement reached today thus allows for none of that funding, and combined with the additional savings described above, results in an overall $30 billion total reduction from the Senate’s spending plans.”

While the speaker conceded, “These final spending levels will not satisfy everyone, and they do not cut as much spending as many of us would like,” but added that “his deal does provide us a path to 1) move the process forward; 2) reprioritize funding within the topline towards conservative objectives, instead of last year’s Schumer-Pelosi omnibus; and 3) fight for the important policy riders including in our House FY24 bills.”

Democrats took a victory lap when announcing the deal

Dems took a proud victory lap when they announced the deal. Chuck Schumer, Democrat Majority Leader from New York, along with Democrat House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York, released a statement Sunday that touted the agreement, “clears the way for Congress to act over the next few weeks in order to maintain important funding priorities.”

However, a showdown is still looming — Speaker Johnson made clear that he wants conservative policy riders included in the final spending agreement.

Jeffries and Schumer took a shot at the speaker’s effort in their statement, “We have made it clear to Speaker Mike Johnson that Democrats will not support including poison pill policy changes in any of the twelve appropriations bills put before the Congress.”

President Joe Biden took a similar posture toward Republicans in the House while holding the deal up as a victory.

“It reflects the funding levels that I negotiated with both parties and signed into law last spring. It rejects deep cuts to programs hardworking families count on and provides a path to passing full-year funding bills that deliver for the American people and are free of any extreme policies,” Biden said of the deal.

“Now, congressional Republicans must do their job, stop threatening to shut down the government and fulfill their basic responsibility to fund critical domestic and national security priorities, including my supplemental request. It’s time for them to act.”

Current levels of government funding partially expire on January 19, with remaining offices and agencies funded through February 2.

In the meantime, a growing contingent of Republican hardliners is calling on House GOP leaders to block federal government funding progress together until Democrats make conservative policy concessions to deal with the crisis along the border.