The Senate returned from recess last Monday, September 4, 2023, and the House will return to Washington, D.C. this week to resume work on the numerous legislative priorities before them, the most pressing of which is finding a way to fund the government past September 30th, the end of the fiscal year. With just about 3 weeks until the looming deadline, the two chambers continue to address the Appropriations bills in different ways.
The Senate Appropriations Committee was able to move all twelve of its bills out of committee before the August recess, with each bill passing by wide bipartisan margins. This is the first time in five years that all twelve bills have passed out of Committee. Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME) announced jointly on September 6th that they will bring three of these bills to the full Senate floor this week in what is sometimes called a “minibus.” The first three bills set to be considered by the full Senate will be the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (Mil-Con); Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD); and Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies (Ag) appropriations bills. The THUD bill includes the Family Unification Program, which funds housing vouchers for families involved in child welfare and young people transitioning from foster care to independence, and the Ag bill includes key nutrition programs such as WIC and SNAP.
Progress in the House has been more stilted. The Majority party was able to pass just one of the twelve bills, the Mil-Con bill, through the full House floor before recess began, and some bills, including the Labor, HHS, and Education bill that houses most human services funding, did not make it through the full House Appropriations Committee. House bills passed largely along party lines, with no Democrats voting for them and even a few Republicans choosing to vote against some of them.
On August 31, the White House called on Congress to pass a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded past the September 30th deadline, likely until late November or early December. However, the House Freedom Caucus had already announced that the group would oppose the CR unless it includes conservatives’ policy priorities relating to overall spending levels, the border, the Justice Department and the military, noting that a CR without significant funding cuts would not gain their support. This declaration complicates negotiations for Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has acknowledge the need for a CR; it is currently uncertain how the House will proceed, though a “clean” CR that carries forward current funding levels with some additional funding for disaster relief, Ukraine, and the border is expected from the Senate.
House and Senate leadership will need to reach some kind of agreement before September 30th to avoid a government shutdown, which would significantly impact programming and service delivery if it were to happen.