The U.S. Capitol (Samuel Corum/Getty Images).
WASHINGTON — U.S. House members, mostly along party lines, cleared a spending package Friday that would bolster funding for natural disaster response, though with Hurricane Ian still battering the Southeast, lawmakers will likely need to approve another aid bill later this year.
The measure would provide $2.5 billion in assistance for the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that destroyed parts of New Mexico this spring, $2 billion in Community Development Block Grant disaster relief funding for states affected by natural disasters during 2021 and 2022 and $1 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The package would keep the federal government up and running through Dec. 16, giving congressional leaders and the White House more time to work out how much to spend on discretionary programs and to draft bipartisan versions of the dozen annual government funding bills.
The bill, approved 230-201, now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature. He needs to sign the measure before midnight, when the current government spending law expires ahead of the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.
All nine members of Pennsylvania’s Democratic House delegation, joined by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, voted in favor of the bill. Pennsylvania’s eight, remaining Republican House lawmakers voted against it, according to an official House roll call.
If the stopgap spending bill hadn’t cleared Congress, the federal government would have begun a partial government shutdown early Saturday.
The measure also includes $12 billion to help Ukraine continue to defend itself following Russia’s invasion in February.
The U.S. Senate approved the bill following a 72-25 vote Thursday, with all opposition coming from Republicans, including U.S, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
Republicans blast December deadline
GOP lawmakers in the U.S. House spoke out against the package Friday, arguing that setting up a government funding deadline during the lame-duck session following the midterm elections wasn’t the right decision.
“Pennsylvanians do not have the luxury of going over-budget and indulging in wish-list-spending-sprees, and neither should progressives in Congress,” U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, said in a statementt. “This legislation would only serve to fund yet another liberal-spending spree that fails to address the challenges that we face. With no additional funding to help our border patrol, to fight rising crime, or to stop the flow of illegal drugs into our community, I could not support this legislation.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16th District, called the bill the product of Congress’ “bad habit” of “[kicking] the can down the road” by passing short-term spending bills.
“Every American family must operate within the constraints of a limited, predictable budget so they can make responsible decisions about how to spend and save money,” Kelly said in a statement.
“Congress should operate no differently. Over the past several years, Congress has gotten into the bad habit of nearing a government shutdown and passing a short-term [continuing resolution] to kick the can down the road,” he continued. “This reckless practice leads to rushed decisions and poor policies. As a small business owner, I know how important it is to keep the government open, but we cannot continue to spend money carelessly without going through the Constitutional process.”
Even if Republicans were to gain control of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate following November’s midterm elections, the spending bills would still need bipartisan support to clear the Senate’s 60-vote legislative filibuster and the backing of the Biden administration to avoid a veto.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, urged lawmakers to vote against the bill, saying it didn’t do enough to address border security, energy, or inflation.
Granger also chastised Democrats for releasing the short-term bill Monday with just days to go before the end of the fiscal year.
“It’s unfortunate that this bill would be rushed through the House today with just hours to spare to avoid a government shutdown,” Granger said. “The American people continue to wonder why Congress can’t get its job done until the very last minute.”
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-7th District, said the funding bill is “the result of bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to support working families by lowering household costs, growing opportunities through early childhood education, and investing in high-quality job training.
“It fulfills our obligation to ensure that we continue to serve Americans without interruption and to assist communities—in Puerto Rico, Florida, and elsewhere—recover and build back critical infrastructure after recent natural disasters,” Wild continued.
Taking to Twitter, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, said she was “proud to vote to extend funding for crucial housing, public education, and child care programs that support the needs of working families living paycheck-to-paycheck.”
Congress hasn’t completed its appropriations process on time since 1996 and regularly starts off the new fiscal year under a stopgap spending bill that typically lasts through mid-December.
Republicans and Democrats have consistently leaned on short-term government funding bills, or continuing resolutions, to give themselves more time to negotiate the full-year spending bills.
Congress relied on a string of the short-term bills to keep the government running for the full year in fiscal 2007, 2011 and 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The stopgap spending package approved Friday mostly continues current spending levels and policies from the omnibus spending package Congress approved with bipartisan majorities in March.
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