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It’s a good thing that Congress passed, and President Joe Biden signed, a bill last week to keep the U.S. government funded and operational.
However – and it’s a big however – the spending plans are of such short duration that lawmakers will soon be back to budget brinksmanship in a few weeks.
The continuing resolution that was approved last week funds veterans’ affairs, transportation, energy, housing, and agriculture through Jan. 19 and the rest of government agencies, including the Defense Department, until Feb. 2. After they return from a long Thanksgiving break, lawmakers will again debate longer term spending plans, under the specter of a two-phase shutdown beginning early next year.
This is more like a continuing non-resolution.
As we’ve written before, keeping the federal government operational is one of the most basic jobs of Congress. It is a job they are largely failing at.
Yes, they’ve recently managed to avoid shutdowns, but no significant decisions about spending, or changes in spending, have been made. Instead, lawmakers have largely left government spending on short-term bursts of autopilot, to the frustration of both many far-right Republicans who want deep spending cuts and many Democrats who have spending priorities that have not been addressed.
In addition, last week’s bill, like the one before it, does not include additional funding for Ukraine, which continues to fight to repel a nearly two-year-old Russian invasion. Additional funding for Israel was not included either.
There appears to be waning interest among some lawmakers in appropriating additional money for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion. Likewise, additional funding for Israel, already a large recipient of U.S. financial support, is complicated by the Netanyahu government’s deadly and destructive response to last month’s brutal Hamas terrorist attacks. Further, some Republicans want to pair Israel funding with cuts in funding for the IRS, a position that is likely untenable to Democrats.
It is also worth noting that the budget plan, put forward by new House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, only passed because most Democrats in the House supported it. Ninety-three House Republicans voted against it. Some Republicans voted against it because it did not contain spending cuts and no additional spending on border security, which had been priorities of the right-wing group that led the ouster of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy after he secured a deal to avoid a government shutdown in September.
After last Tuesday’s House vote, Johnson said that lawmakers were tired and needed to “cool off” and to “reset” He noted that lawmakers had been in session for 10 straight weeks.
In most jobs, people don’t get more than a week off every 10 weeks, but we hope lawmakers enjoy their break and come back ready to do the hard job of actually working together to pass longer-term comprehensive spending bills.
The Senate can lead by example. Its Appropriations Committee, with Sen. Susan Collins as vice chair, has passed 12 funding bills, on a bipartisan basis with seven of them receiving unanimous votes. Three of those bills have been passed by the full Senate, also on a bipartisan basis.
Congress has a lot of work to do when it resumes next week. Passing funding bills, not continuing non-resolutions, should be at the top of the priority list.