Less than six months after President Joe Biden and then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reached a bipartisan agreement on a $1.59 trillion discretionary spending level for fiscal year 2024, House Republicans are pushing for significant cuts. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) said on Dec. 6 those reductions would be “devastating for families, jeopardize our national security, and undermine our country’s future.”
When Congress passed its debt limit deal in June, it included language requiring automatic cuts of more than 9% to nearly all domestic spending and 3% cuts to the defense budget unless FY 2024 spending bills were approved.
“Our message should be clear: House Republicans will combat inflation and the woke and weaponized federal bureaucracy by securing gimmick-free spending cuts and conservative policy riders through the passage of individual appropriations bills,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), policy director for the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, wrote in a Nov. 28 Washington Examiner op-ed. “If we face resistance from Democrats or even our own Appropriators, Speaker Johnson should automatically trigger FRA [the Fiscal Responsibility Act debt ceiling agreement] spending cuts by defaulting to a CR [continuing resolution] that expires on September 30, 2024.”
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) reportedly also wants to bring spending to below the agreed levels.
In a Nov. 9 press release, his office said he would oppose any additional stopgap spending bills: “If Congressional Democrats and President Biden are unwilling to responsibly finish the important work of completing the FY24 funding bills on this timeline, House Republicans will refocus Washington on FY25, by implementing a full-year CR with appropriate adjustments to meet our national security priorities and demanding the Senate and White House get back to regular order on schedule and without gimmicks.”
In a Senate floor speech, Murray called that idea “unprecedented and reckless.”
According to a transcript posted online by the Appropriations Committee, Murray noted that it would undermine national defense and security, freezing hundreds of Pentagon programs and leaving the military without “critical funding increases to support our servicemembers, to support their families, from troop readiness essentials like recruitment and training, to family support like child care, and barracks, to other projects, like the shipyard infrastructure optimization plan.”
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, the top minority member of the appropriations panel, cautioned in a Nov. 29 speech that allowing such cuts “would simply fail to provide the resources needed to protect our nation,” citing a letter from General C.Q. Brown, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“As General Brown points out, a year-long CR ‘would create a $5.8 billion shortfall in military personnel funding and exacerbate recruiting and retention challenges.’ To offset the costs of the pay raise for the military, DOD would be forced to slow recruiting – the last thing we want to see happen – delay service members’ moves, and take other detrimental actions,” Collins said.
Murray warned that the impact of the domestic cuts would be stark:
Millions of women and kids would lose WIC benefits. Wait times at ports of entry would quadruple. Wait times for new business permits from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau would increase fivefold. Nearly one thousand fewer full-time food safety inspectors. Two thousand five hundred fewer national park employees, and less staff and equipment for our federal firefighters. Five thousand scientists, students, and technical staff no longer receiving research support at our national labs and universities. One hundred thirty thousand fewer small businesses getting training and counseling from the Small Business Association. Nearly seven hundred thousand households losing federal housing assistance—and pushed toward homelessness. 2.5 million patients across Indian Country hurt by a $235 million cut to the Indian Health Service hospitals and clinics. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
The current stopgap agreement is set to expire in early 2024. Without congressional action, the result will be another costly partial federal government shutdown.