Biden and congressional leaders announce a deal on government funding as a partial shutdown looms

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., right, confers with Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., during a news conference ahead of the State of the Union address, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., right, confers with Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., during a news conference ahead of the State of the Union address, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and congressional leaders announced Tuesday that they have reached an agreement on this fiscal year’s final set of spending bills. Now, the question is how fast lawmakers can get the bills passed to avoid a partial government shutdown.

While Biden said he’ll sign the bill package as soon as he receives it, time is running short. Legislative staff needs time to finish the bill text, an arduous task. The House has a rule that lawmakers get 72 hours to review a bill before voting. And the Senate has never been known for its ability to sprint. Meanwhile, funding for several key agencies expires at midnight Friday.

“We have come to an agreement with Congressional leaders on a path forward for the remaining full-year funding bills,” Biden, a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday morning. “The House and Senate are now working to finalize a package that can quickly be brought to the floor, and I will sign it immediately.”

Work on the final spending bills hit a late snag around funding for the Department of Homeland Security, but the contours of that bill were resolved late Monday. Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said the relevant committees are now drafting bill text to be considered by the full House and Senate “as soon as possible.” Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, issued a similar statement, saying “in the next few days, upon completion of the drafting process,” Congress would consider the package.

The action comes nearly six months into the fiscal year, with Congress still only halfway home in passing spending measures expected to total about $1.65 trillion. Lawmakers passed the first portion of spending bills in early March, representing about 30% of discretionary spending for the year. Now lawmakers are focused on the larger package and, in what has become routine, are brushing up against a shutdown deadline.

Emerging from a meeting with GOP colleagues, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said he expected legislative text to be unveiled Wednesday and a vote in the House to occur by Friday.

“We want to get it done before the government funding expires Friday,” Scalise said.

On holding the vote before lawmakers had 72 hours to read the bill, Scalise said no final decisions had been made, “but obviously we’ve got a deadline of the 22nd that’s coming up that we want to make sure we’re focused on as well.”

The package is expected to provide about $886 billion for the Pentagon. It will also fund the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and others.

Overall, the two spending packages provide about a 3% boost for defense, while keeping nondefense spending roughly flat with the year before. That’s in keeping with an agreement that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy worked out with the White House, which restricted spending for two years and suspended the debt ceiling into January 2025 so the federal government could continue paying its bills.

House Republicans have been determined to end the practice of packaging all 12 annual spending bills into one massive bill called an omnibus. They managed this time to break the spending bills into two parts.

With the possible release of legislative text late Tuesday, the House’s 72-hour rule means that chamber would not take it up until late Friday, just hours before funding expires. Johnson would then likely have to bring the bill up through a streamlined process requiring two-thirds support to pass.

Most of the “no” votes are expected to come from Republicans, who have been critical of the overall spending levels as well as the lack of policy mandates sought by some conservatives, such as restricting abortion access, eliminating diversity and inclusion programs within federal agencies, and banning gender-affirming care.

Then, the Senate would act on the bill, but it would require all senators to agree on speeding up the process to get to a final vote before the midnight Friday deadline. Such agreements generally require Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to allow for votes on various amendments to the bill in return for an expedited final vote. Schumer said Tuesday he was hopeful of avoiding a lapse in government services.

“We haven’t had a government shutdown since 2019. There’s no good reason for us to have one this week now that we’re getting very close to finishing the job,” Schumer said.

One provision in the bill would provide for 12,000 special immigrant visas for eligible Afghans who helped Americans despite great personal risk to themselves and their loved ones during roughly two decades of war in Afghanistan. Without congressional action, the State Department could run out of such visas by the end of summer, endangering thousands of Afghans seeking safety in the U.S.

The news was welcomed by advocacy groups. Shawn VanDiver, a Navy veteran and head of #AfghanEvac, a coalition supporting Afghan resettlement efforts, called it an “unequivocal win” if the legislation is ultimately passed.

“While this won’t be enough visas to help all our Afghan allies, this gives us some breathing room and will show our partners in America’s longest war that we won’t leave them behind,” VanDiver said.

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Associated Press staff writer Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.

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