Biden Signs Government Funding Bill, Averting Shutdown

Speaker Johnson says this positions the GOP to win upcoming spending battles, but Democrats claim victory in extending their 2023 funding program for 75 days.
Biden Signs Government Funding Bill, Averting Shutdown
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at a news conference at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, California, on Nov. 15, 2023. (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
Lawrence Wilson

President Joe Biden signed a stop-gap spending bill, the second this year, delaying once again the threat of a partial government shutdown.

The White House said President Biden signed the bill into law on Nov. 16, barely 24 hours before spending authority for the federal government was set to expire. The measure extends government funding in stages, through Jan. 19, 2024 for some departments and agencies, and through Feb. 2, 2024 for others.

The bill was signed on the sidelines of a dinner President Biden attended in San Francisco at the Legion of Honor museum, where leaders are attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R-N.Y.) used the occasion to decry the House’s unilateral approach to passing most spending bills, noting that this stop-gap measure relied on Democrat votes to pass the House.

“I am pleased that Speaker [Mike] Johnson [R-La.] realized he needed Democratic votes to avoid a shutdown. If the speaker is willing to work with Democrats and resist the siren song of the hard right in the House, then we can work avoid shutdowns in the future and finish the work of funding the government,” Mr. Schumer said upon passing the measure on Nov. 15, adding that the bill was a “good omen for the future.”

Mr. Johnson, who had guided the bill through the House a day earlier, didn’t see it that way.

He said the measure “takes Washington’s preferred Christmas omnibus monstrosity off the table, shifts the government funding paradigm moving forward, and enhances our ability to rein in the Biden administration’s failed policies and government spending.”

“We also are better positioned in the upcoming supplemental debate to demand Border Security, ensure oversight of Ukraine aid, and support our cherished ally, Israel,” Mr. Johnson added in a Nov. 15 statement.

Win for Democrats

The bill is intended to allow Congress to focus on passing one set of spending bills at a time. Critics say it increases the possibility of a government shutdown because there are two deadlines instead of one.

Neither party seemed entirely happy with the legislation, though Democrats seemed to consider it a win because it continues 2023 spending levels and priorities for another two months. These are the same funding levels passed unilaterally by Democrats in December through a massive $1.7 trillion spending bill.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) commented on the result, telling reporters morale is high among House Democrats. “My report this week was very short. No spending cuts, no right-wing extreme policy changes, no government shutdown, no votes tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving,” Mr. Jeffries said on Nov. 15.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) strongly opposed the stop-gap bill precisely because it did not contain spending cuts and policy changes.

“It would continue to fund the Department of Homeland Security led by Alejandro Mayorkas that has released some 2 million people into the United States, including allowing 1.7 million got-aways into the United States ... It will continue to fund the United Nations to the tune of $12.5 billion ... [including] dollars which go directly and indirectly to the Palestinians, and therefore Hamas,” Mr. Roy said. “I just think we should try to do better.”

Ninety-three House Republicans and 10 Republican senators voted against the stop-gap bill.

 House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) speaks during a march for Israel in Washington on Nov. 14, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) speaks during a march for Israel in Washington on Nov. 14, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Unfolding Drama

It marks the third potential disruption of government operations this year owing to the inability of lawmakers and the president to come to terms over government finances.

The first was in late May as the U.S. Treasury came dangerously close to reaching the nation’s borrowing limit. Without the authority to borrow money, the Treasury would have had to delay paying some obligations, which analysts said could have been catastrophic for financial markets.

The crisis was averted when then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the president came to an agreement over terms for raising the debt ceiling that included future cuts to federal spending.

After that, neither the House nor the Senate was able to pass the 12 required spending bills by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30. Without authorizing legislation in place, the government would have lacked the ability to spend money requiring the suspension of all but essential government functions.

After two failed attempts, the House passed a 45-day stop-gap bill that extended government funding through Nov. 17. The Senate quickly adopted the measure, and the president signed it hours before the government would have been forced to close.

Eight House Republicans joined by 208 Democrats ousted Mr. McCarthy three days later, resulting in a three-week delay in considering any legislation.

When Mr. Johnson was elected speaker on Oct. 25, just 23 days remained until the government would once again be forced to close if no spending agreements were in place. The new speaker intended to complete all 12 appropriations bills within that time frame. But with time running out and five bills still on the table, he opted for another funding extension.

When the House and Senate resume after Thanksgiving, they will have 65 days to pass the remaining appropriations bills, reconcile them between the two chambers, and present them to the president for his signature.