After the Senate averted a government shutdown last week, Congress is facing another looming deadline to pass a spending bill by March 11. But Republicans and Democrats remain steeply divided over what such a bill should focus on, as Democrats have pushed for increased social spending and Republicans have pushed for increased defense spending.
Last week, the Senate passed a stopgap funding bill that extended government funding until March 11, averting a shutdown. These so-called “continuing resolutions” do not make changes to government spending—rather, they simply continue the status quo, extending the deadline for past funding bills.
Because of this, funding levels have remained at the same levels as during Donald Trump’s presidency, despite Democrats having had control of both the White House and Congress for over a year now.
But these resolutions are only a band-aid for the longer term problem of funding the government.
Every year, Congress must pass a new federal budget. These budgets make changes to spending levels in, for example, defense, welfare programs, medicare/medicaid, education, infrastructure, and an array of other domains. However, Democrats have been unable to pass a proper budget for fiscal year 2022, despite nominally controlling the House and Senate.
After the passage of the most recent continuing resolution, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are again rushing to craft a compromise spending bill acceptable to both parties. But stark ideological differences between the two parties remain, creating significant obstacles to meeting the new March 11 deadline.
Democrats want to dramatically increase social spending and spending for climate policies—particularly in the wake of the failure of Democrats’ monumental $1.85 trillion Build Back Better (BBB) spending package.
That package would have granted around $550 billion to climate policies, and would have created new federal agencies to help enforce those policies. It also would have dramatically increased the workforce of the IRS as part of a larger effort to close the so-called “tax gap.”
In addition, it would have included a series of social policies, ranging from public housing to government-financed childcare and home healthcare.
Even though BBB has failed, its these remain priorities for Democrats.
An annual spending bill, which must overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold, cannot be as wide-ranging as one passed using the filibuster-proof reconciliation process, but Democrats remain hopeful that they can include scaled-down versions of BBB’s most ambitious measures in the budget bill.
Republicans, on the other hand, have accused the party of an “out-of-control spending spree,” and have staunchly opposed efforts to increase social spending.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has in the past joined Republicans in criticizing increased spending.
Manchin and Republicans alike have blamed the United States’ skyrocketing inflation on the federal government’s spending. As inflation has continued to worsen, Manchin and GOP lawmakers have become increasingly resolute in their opposition to expensive new programs.
On the other side of the aisle, some Republicans have demanded that the bill grant even more funding to defense spending, even though the United States spends more on its military than any other nation in the world.
In the past year, the U.S. government has spent around $775 billion on defense, its third largest budget item behind medicare/medicaid and social security. Currently, the United States spends more on its military than the next top 10 spenders—including China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia—combined.
Some Republicans are so insistent on increasing military spending that, despite their stated opposition to Democrats’ social spending goals, they have indicated that they would be willing to accept increased social spending in exchange for increasing the Pentagon’s paycheck.
During the summer of 2021, amid one of the first rounds of controversy over the budget, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated that he would be willing to strike a spending deal with Democrats, but said that any such compromise would have to emphasize defense spending as much as other spending.
For Republicans to accept a spending bill, McConnell said on the Senate floor, “Democrats will need to honor the longstanding bipartisan truce that provides parity for defense and non-defense spending growth.”
But given Democrats’ insistence on a bill that focuses mostly on social spending, it is uncertain whether such parity will be accepted by the majority party.
Speaking on one Democrat-proposed spending bill, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) noted that it would contain the “biggest increase in non-defense programs” in four years.
On the other hand, Democrats are anxious to avoid passing yet another continuing resolution.
Asked by reporters about the prospect of a fourth continuing resolution, Leahy replied “Oh God, no. Good Lord, no.”
Nevertheless, amid ongoing disagreements over how much the federal government should set aside for fiscal year 2022, another continuing resolution may be necessary in the near future.