Congress will have about eight legislative days when lawmakers return in January to pass trillions in spending to avoid shutting down USDA and a handful of other agencies. It all comes down to interpreting a deal—the one ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made with President Biden last spring that formalized a top-line spending figure but had a hand-shake side deal for billions to soften cuts.
New Speaker Mike Johnson says he wasn’t part of that hand-shake deal and will only abide by the formal figure written into the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Johnson says, “We’re all hands-on deck on appropriations bills, as we know. We have looming deadlines, and we all agreed on that, but what we also agreed to, which is in the law, is the FRA numbers on top-line.”
Without a full agreement, funding runs out on January 19th for USDA, its food agencies, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and veterans’ programs, followed on February 2nd by State, Defense, Commerce, Labor, HHS, and others.
But Senate Appropriations Chair, Democrat Patty Murray lays the blame for any shutdown on Republicans. Murray says, “Three months into this fiscal year, House Republicans want to pull the rug out from the rest of us and go back on their word and the deal that they kept.”
But Murray’s reference to “the deal” includes the tens of billions in the Biden-McCarthy informal side agreement Johnson rejected. The Speaker also refuses to do more short-term spending extensions and threatens to trigger automatic across-the-board cuts without agreement on individual agency spending bills by April 30th.