Congress gets a $1.2 trillion spending bill days before shutdown

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Congressional leaders unveiled new federal funding legislation Thursday that would raise pay for military service members, eliminate U.S. funding for the U.N. relief agency in Gaza and bolster security spending at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The bill to allocate $1.2 trillion in spending, the product of a deal among President Biden, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), would fund about three-quarters of the federal government for the next six months until the end of the fiscal year. But lawmakers have scant time to approve it before a government shutdown deadline this weekend.

Congress passed, and Biden signed, another set of six funding bills this month worth $459 billion for the other roughly quarter of federal financing.

Without new funding legislation, agencies will shutter just after midnight Saturday. In the House, a vote could come as soon as Friday morning, pushing the more deliberate Senate up against a ticking countdown clock.

The legislation comes late in Congress’s budget calendar, with the 2024 fiscal year half over. But Congress has not passed all of its appropriations bills on time since 1997, according to the Pew Research Center, often relying instead on stopgap funding bills called continuing resolutions, or CRs.

Even if Congress doesn’t finish work by Saturday’s shutdown deadline, the effects of a shutdown might be minimal as long as lawmakers act before Monday: Many federal workers at unfunded agencies would be off for the weekend anyway. But if a closure goes longer, more than half of IRS employees would face furloughs at the height of tax filing season.

Border Patrol officers and about 1.3 million active-duty service members would remain on the job without pay. So would Transportation Security Administration screeners, many of whom called in sick as a protest after a previous shutdown dragged on for weeks, sparking nationwide travel delays.

“No one should want a shutdown. No one should cause a shutdown. Let’s pull together and get this done,” Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the chief Democratic negotiator, said Wednesday. “Please excuse the former preschool teacher in me, but here’s the lesson I hope everyone learned when we pass these last six bills: When we listen to each other, and to the American people instead of the loudest voices on the far right, we can work together, and actually pass meaningful bills that help people back home.”

Funding the Department of Homeland Security emerged as the biggest obstacle for the appropriations package, turning into a larger fight between the White House and Johnson over operations to secure the southern border and immigration policy as a whole.

The legislation unveiled Thursday would increase funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is facing a budget shortfall, to support roughly 42,000 beds in detention facilities, and it would fund 22,000 Border Patrol agents.

It would also cut U.S. contributions by 20 percent to nongovernmental organizations that provide services for new arrivals to the country. Lawmakers who want to restrict immigration argue that the nonprofit groups incentivize illegal crossings.

Both parties claimed victories in the legislation. Military personnel would receive a 5.2 percent pay raise and significant increases in housing and food subsidies.

Republicans, still bruised from a lack of political success on earlier funding bills, secured a 12-month prohibition on federal funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), multiple people familiar with the agreement confirmed. Israel has accused some of the agency’s employees of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks that killed some 1,200 Israelis and saw hundreds more brought back as hostages to the Gaza Strip by the militant group Hamas. A U.S. intelligence assessment has reportedly verified some of Israel’s claims about UNRWA.

The bill also includes a 6 percent cut to foreign aid programs, already a minuscule slice of federal spending, and a largely symbolic Republican win that prohibits nonofficial U.S. flags from flying atop American embassies. GOP lawmakers had hoped to use that provision, a slightly narrower version of which had previously been in place, to prevent Biden-nominated officials from displaying Pride flags at official locations at U.S. diplomatic outposts.

Democrats eliminated other culture-war style policy provisions to limit abortion access and restrict the rights of LGBTQ Americans.

Certain Democratic priorities also saw significant funding boosts, including $1 billion more for early education program Head Start and $1 billion for climate resilience funding at the Defense Department. The legislation also provides an additional 12,000 special immigrant visas for Afghans who assisted the U.S. military and are attempting to escape the Taliban government.

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