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Congress on track to avoid a shutdown as House passes two-tier spending bill

The House is set to vote Tuesday on a plan from House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to avoid a government shutdown with a two-tiered spending deadline.
J. Scott Applewhite
The House is set to vote Tuesday on a plan from House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to avoid a government shutdown with a two-tiered spending deadline.

Updated November 14, 2023 at 8:26 PM ET

The House voted overwhelmingly, 336 to 95, to approve an unusual two-tier spending bill to keep some government offices open through mid-January while others would operate through the beginning of February. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure later this week.

Democrats had criticized Johnson's two-step construction for creating two additional funding deadlines, and therefore two opportunities for a partial government shutdown. But caucus leadership got behind the bill Tuesday afternoon, citing the fact that it funded the government at current levels, was "devoid of harmful cuts and free of extreme right-wing policy riders."

Senate Democrats have offered similar support.

President Biden will sign the short-term spending deal — providing it is passed by the Senate, according to a White House official.

The funding bill "maintains current funding levels and has no harmful policy riders," the official said. While the bill does not include any money for Israel, Ukraine, border security and other foreign policy priorities that Biden requested in a package worth more than $105 billion, the White House remains optimistic that there's enough bipartisan support to advance, according to the official.

The Republican-drafted bill funds four federal agencies through Jan. 19, and the rest through Feb. 2, all at current spending levels. Johnson, R-La., took the unconventional approach of splitting the deadlines for the spending bills in part to appease a bloc of House conservatives who first floated the plan. But the group abandoned their support for the plan because Johnson failed to also include deep spending cuts they have demanded.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus came out against the plan Tuesday morning, writing that it "contains no spending reductions, no border security, and not a single meaningful win for the American people."

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Johnson acknowledged conservative concerns, but called his two-step plan an "important innovation" that would avoid a last-minute omnibus bill passed at the end of the year.

"I want to cut spending right now, and I would like to put policy riders on this. But when you have a three vote majority, as we do right now, we don't have the votes to be able to advance that," Johnson said. "What we need to do is avoid a government shutdown. Why? Because that would unduly harm the American people. Troops wouldn't be paid. We know all the effects of that. And so we have to avoid that and we have responsibility to do it."

Working with Democrats to keep the government open is what triggered the push to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last month. At this point, it does not seem that Johnson will face the same fate.

Rep. Bob Good, a member of the Freedom Caucus who voted to oust McCarthy, told CNN that he does not support Johnson's plan, but drew distinctions between his actions and McCarthy's.

"Speaker Johnson has been on the job for what, two, three weeks now," said Good, R-Pa. "That's like throwing in a quarterback in the fourth quarter and expecting to make up for three quarters of failure and you're behind 35-nothing."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.