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Chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), left, speaks with Ranking Member Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) before the start of a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Oct. 31, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Democratic and Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate agreed on March 3 on a spending package that combines six fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills into one “minibus” bill. 

Democratic leaders hailed the bipartisan agreement for increasing investments in nutritional programs for low-income families and services for veterans. Members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus complained that it did not include conservative social policy riders.

The package includes funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs, as well as some other agencies and military construction programs. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA), Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-ME), House Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger (R-TX), and House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) announced the agreement.

Included in the $467.5 billion package is a $1 billion increase in funds for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC, which provides food assistance to about 7 million Americans each year. 

It also includes funding for veterans’ health care, including increased investments in mental health services, women’s health care, and programs to curb homelessness.

Congress was supposed to pass all 12 annual appropriations bills by Sept. 30, 2023. Plagued by disarray and infighting, the Republican-led House of Representatives did not approve all of those bills on time and had not previously reached agreements with the Democratic-led Senate on the rest. Instead, they passed a series of stop-gap bills to avert damaging federal government shutdowns. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) praised the minibus package and specifically noted that it omitted several riders advancing conservative social policy that previously had been included in House Republican proposals. “It’s good news that Congress has finally reached a bipartisan agreement on the first six government funding bills that will keep the government open,” he said in a press release. “We are proud to be keeping the government open without cuts or poison pill riders.”

Members of the House Freedom Caucus circulated a letter dated Feb. 21 and addressed to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) demanding that any spending agreement include massive spending cuts and social policy changes. The letter, signed by 30 caucus members, called for defunding women’s health programs, a program to ensure access to abortion for military service members, clean energy standards, and background checks for gun purchasers.

Nearly all of those provisions were left out of the final agreement.

“The Swamp’s first spending package is out,” Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde, a House Freedom Caucus member who signed the letter, tweeted on March 3. He then provided a list of what the called “policy wins that were SURRENDERED during backroom negotiations,” noting that the package removes riders to halt expanded background checks, stop extreme risk protection orders to temporarily disarm those judged to be an imminent threat, and eliminate the Justice Department’s task force on reproductive rights. 

The House and Senate are both expected to consider the minibus bill this week.

If the package wins approval and is signed into law by the president, action will still be needed to fund the legislative branch and the remaining agencies including the departments of Defense, Education, Heath and Human Services, Homeland Security, Labor, and State; their current funding expires March 22.

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