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Lawmakers unveil slate of government funding bills ahead of shutdown deadline

Top lawmakers unveiled a finalized package of six government funding bills Sunday evening, kicking off a race against the clock to pass the measure ahead of a shutdown deadline at the end of the week.

The release of the package – which is backed by the top Democrats and Republicans in both chambers – represents a breakthrough for negotiators. The current fiscal year began more than five months ago on October 1, 2023 – and the federal government has operated under a series of short-term funding extensions since then as lawmakers had struggled to reach consensus on new bills to fund the various departments and agencies. But after months of averting shutdowns at the eleventh hour with stopgap bills, Capitol Hill may finally be on the verge of passing that legislation.

Both sides of the aisle were quick to claim wins. “It’s good news that Congress has finally reached a bipartisan agreement on the first six government funding bills that will keep the government open. We are proud to be keeping the government open without cuts or poison pill riders,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

“The House must quickly pass and send the Senate this bipartisan package. Once we receive the bill, the Senate will once again need bipartisan cooperation to pass it before Friday’s deadline and avoid a shutdown,” the New York Democrat said.

Democrats touted that the package fully funds nutrition assistance for women and children through the program known as WIC. A release from Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats said the package provides $7.03 billion for the program, a roughly $1 billion increase from fiscal year 2023.

“I said I would move mountains to fully fund WIC and that’s exactly what I did. Full funding for WIC should never have been in question, but I’m glad that the millions of moms and babies who rely on this program won’t have to suffer the stress and harm of losing access to the lifesaving nutritional support and essential health care services WIC provides,” Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, said in a statement.

A release from the Senate Appropriations Committee also said the bills include investments in hiring new air traffic controllers and rail safety inspectors, among a variety of other provisions.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement that “House Republicans secured key conservative policy victories, rejected left-wing proposals, and imposed sharp cuts to agencies and programs critical to the President Biden’s agenda.”

The Louisiana Republican went on to say, “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. 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.”

To provide additional time for the bills to be finalized and passed, Congress approved a stopgap measure to extend funding on a short-term basis, setting up deadlines on March 8 and March 22.

Lawmakers plan to pass the package of six funding bills through both chambers this week. Adding to the challenge, there’s only a short window of time to pass the legislation. The House and Senate are both set to return on Tuesday, and President Joe Biden will deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Thursday evening.

After that, lawmakers will have until March 22 to finalize and pass the remaining bills to fund the rest of the government.

Johnson has been under intense pressure from his right flank to fight for conservative wins and has faced renewed criticism from hardline conservatives over his handling over the government spending fight.

Johnson won the gavel after conservatives ousted former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a historic vote last year, raising the question of whether the Louisiana Republican may at some point face a similar threat against his speakership.

McCarthy’s ouster threw House Republicans into a protracted period of chaos as they searched for a new leader, an episode that many GOP lawmakers do not want to see unfold a second time.

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