Monday, April 15, 2024

Congress Battles Over Blockbuster $1.2 Trillion Spending Blowout

HomePoliticsCongress Battles Over Blockbuster $1.2 Trillion Spending Blowout

WASHINGTON — After months of bitter partisan squabbling and a brief overnight government shutdown, Congress gave final approval on Saturday to a $1.2 trillion package to fund federal operations through the rest of the fiscal year, averting further disruptions but doing little to resolve the toxic budget battles ahead.

The Senate voted 74 to 24 to approve the sprawling legislation, joining the House, which passed it a day earlier. President Biden quickly signed it into law upon receiving it Saturday afternoon from hurried congressional clerks.

The hard-fought compromise included boosts for military spending that cleared the way for Republican support, as well as increases for social programs that allowed most Democrats to back it. But the frantic race to approve the legislation before a Friday night deadline for funding much of the government underscored the gridlock that has overwhelmed Capitol Hill.

Securing the votes needed in the Senate proved excruciating for both parties’ leaders as they were forced to overcome objections from conservatives who denounced the increased spending and progressives who said it failed to go far enough in addressing climate change and other priorities.

“This was an unacceptable, utterly indefensible process,” said Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, joining a chorus of critics from both parties who complained about being given little time to review the 1,012-page bill.

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Yet most senators from both parties concluded that the alternative — a prolonged federal shutdown that would have disrupted government services and paychecks for millions of workers — would have been far worse. The Treasury Department had already started taking emergency measures to keep money flowing before Mr. Biden signed the stopgap bill into law.

The final package bulked up spending for the military, delivering an 8 percent budget increase that pushed military spending over $800 billion and secured the backing of mainstream Republican senators. That ensured enough Republican votes for the bill to clear the 60-vote threshold required in the Senate.

But in a bid to rally Democratic support, it also boosted funding for a host of domestic initiatives, allocating more than $300 billion for programs including housing, child care and job training, and increasing financing for medical research and environmental protection.

That drew rebukes from fiscal conservatives like Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who called it “a crazy way to run the country.”

“Increasing non-defense discretionary spending by over 13 percent and saddling our kids and grandkids with more crippling debt is wildly irresponsible,” Mr. Scott said in a statement.

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Yet a broad bipartisan coalition concluded that approving the spending package, the product of months of closed-door negotiations, was better than provoking a partial government shutdown that would have begun rippling across the country.

“We’re going to get criticized no matter what we do around here,” said Senator Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine. “But we need to keep the government operating.”

Beyond funding the government’s operations, the legislation also paved the way for Mr. Biden to rescind the pandemic-era public health emergency, potentially affecting millions who had obtained extra benefits through Medicaid and nutrition assistance programs.

And tucked into various sections were a grab bag of policy changes, including legislation backed by the fossil fuel industry to expedite federal approval for energy projects and an overhaul of the Electoral Count Act to clarify the process for certifying presidential election results.

The fact that it took so long for Congress to complete this routine fiscal task spoke to the fractured state of the institution under divided party control. Republicans secured a narrow majority in the House while Democrats held on to the Senate in last year’s midterm elections, a split that has made even basic legislating an ordeal.

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Despite pleas from its nonpartisan budget analysts to approve spending bills well before the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, Congress has lurched from one stopgap spending patch to another while unable to strike a broader compromise. Over $1.5 trillion was consumed by stopgap bills just to keep the government limping along.

The rancorous fight has presaged what could be an even more apocalyptic spending battle in the fall, when the nation is expected to breach the statutory debt ceiling mandating that Congress take action to avert a catastrophic default.

Hard-line House Republicans have already demanded far-reaching cuts to domestic programs in exchange for raising the debt limit, something the White House has rejected. The prospect of edging toward a debt default that could shred America’s economic credibility has begun weighing on Wall Street and rattling allies abroad.

“This was ugly and totally unnecessary,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii. “And this is the warm-up act for the debt ceiling.”

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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