House Panel Set to Advance 2024 Budget Bills to Floor

After near-five hour Friday hearing, House Rules Committee votes Saturday on four spending measures with eight more in limbo a week before fiscal year ends.
House Panel Set to Advance 2024 Budget Bills to Floor
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) speaks during a House Rules Committee meeting on measures giving working Americans and small businesses more health coverage options, protecting fiscally responsible people from being punished with higher mortgage fees, and condemning moves to use public school facilities to house illegal migrants in Congress in Washington on June 20, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
John Haughey

The House Rules Committee will convene Saturday to approve four appropriations bills after reaching what appears to be grudging consensus on how the spending measures will be debated next week during a near-five hour Friday hearing.

If the four budget bills advance, the Republican-led House only needs to get eight more annual appropriations bills that constitute the federal budget to the floor, adopt all 12, negotiate with the Democrat-majority Senate to arrive at one spending plan, and then adopt that final budget before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1—next Saturday.

If the nation’s budget is not adopted by Sept. 30, much of the federal government is essentially defunded and must shut down beginning Oct. 1 unless the House and Senate agree to temporarily sustain funding through a continuing resolution (CR).

A proposed CR to keep the federal government running through October while the budget is pounded out failed last week.

“It is not our intent to have any votes tonight or do anything else. It would be our intent to come in tomorrow,” House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, altering the 13-member panel led by nine Republicans that they’d be later notified when their Saturday hearing will convene.

Rare Rule Vote Failure

Much of the hearing focused on the House’s proposed $1.5 trillion Farm Bill, $91.5 billion Homeland Security budget, and $52.5 billion State Department spending plan.
The $886.3 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), or annual defense budget, was also on the agenda, although discussion about the must-pass appropriations bill was not related to its content but to process House conservatives want implemented to review spending bills.

The NDAA had been set for a Sept. 20 floor vote but was kicked back to the House Rules committee when a vote to deliberate the spending measure under “suspended rule” failed.

The House has two ways to pass legislation, including appropriations bills: Putting bills directly onto the floor for an up-or-down vote or vetting it first in the House Rules Committee.

Bills put directly onto the floor are passed “under suspension of the rule” and require a two-thirds majority—291 of 435 votes—to pass. Bills that go through the Rules Committee can be adopted with a simple majority vote.

Because it is easier to pass bills with 218 votes than 291, especially when they are controversial and the majority party has a narrow advantage, running them first through the House Rules Committee is how conservatives want the bills placed on the floor under the procedural rule.

After the Rules Committee debates and passes “the rule,” bills adopted “under the rule” advance to the House floor, where all 12 measures are individually debated and voted on with only a simple majority necessary for adoption.

On Sept. 20, five Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the rule, blocking the floor introduction of the NDAA, sustaining objections to the level of discretionary spending in the overall budget. They are demanding a further $1.471 trillion in cuts.

It marked the third time the House shot down deliberating a proposed bill under “suspended rule” since Mr. McCarthy became Speaker in January.

Since 1995, the House has failed to pass a rule eight times, all under GOP leaders. Speaker Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) lost six rule votes during his four-year tenure. Republican Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi, never lost a rule vote during their tenures.

 Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asks questions at a House Hearing on Sept. 20, 2023. (House Judiciary Committee/Screenshot via NTD)
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asks questions at a House Hearing on Sept. 20, 2023. (House Judiciary Committee/Screenshot via NTD)

No Rule, No Budget

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) appeared before the panel: “principally to testify in favor of this rule. I think it is a good thing for the House of Representatives and a good thing for the country to consider these appropriations measures separately and to do so with robust amendments.”

Mr. Gaetz said in January, the rule was a chief contention in the deal that allowed Mr. McCarthy to serve as speaker.

“It was a major issue whether or not the House of Representatives would continue to govern by omnibus and continuing resolution and there were several of us who demanded from Speaker McCarthy concessions that we would not do that anymore,” he said. “We would not take one up-or-down vote on all these disparate agencies of government to fund them or not fund them.”

Democrats make “very valid points” in criticizing Republicans for the contentiously slow pace of budget negotiations, Mr. Gaetz said.

“We own that failure. And now we have to break the fever. We have to kick the habit of governing by omnibus and continuing resolution,” he said. “This government is about to run $2 trillion annual deficits. We are $33 trillion in debt. Both parties have contributed to that substantially and I believe the reason that, regardless of which party is controlling the place, we seem to always gravitate to these omnibus bills and continuing resolutions is because we don't have the courage to actually cut spending.”

With little progress made on the budget, Mr. McCarthy sent Republicans home the night before to return next week.

Mr. Gaetz joined Democrats and other Republicans in questioning Mr. McCarthy’s decision with time running out to adopt a budget before the new fiscal year.

“It’s a bad sign that Speaker McCarthy at 3 o'clock on a Thursday functionally sent people home,” he said, thanking the Rules Committee for staying in Washington and doing what it can to get appropriations measures onto the floor.

“I am heartened that you are here. I am heartened that my colleagues from across the Republican conference are here to work through these measures,” Mr. Gaetz said. “I believe the rule that you are about to vote on, and hopefully pass, provides us the greatest platform to do deliberative governing and to reduce spending in a way that is consistent with our values and the reality of divided government that we currently live in.”

John Haughey reports on public land use, natural resources, and energy policy for The Epoch Times. He has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government and state legislatures. He is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and a Navy veteran. He has reported for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida. You can reach John via email at [email protected]