Speaker Johnson rolls out long-elusive deal to avert shutdown as border compromise takes shape

With some 12 days until the first half of a partial government shutdown, House Speaker Mike Johnson has unveiled a deal to keep the lights on.

Johnson (R-La.) announced an accord for a top-line discretionary budget of “$1.59 trillion,” hovering around the figure set in the debt ceiling deal last year — largely in keeping with Democrats’ demands.

Specifically, the top-line figures for appropriations entail $888 billion for defense and $704 billion in nondefense discretionary spending, according to Johnson.

“The agreement today achieves key modifications to the June framework that will secure more than $16 billion in additional spending cuts to offset the discretionary spending levels,” Johnson wrote in a dear colleague letter.

In other words, the agreement is expected to feature about $30 billion less than what the Democratic-controlled Senate pursued in its appropriations measures, according to Politico.

Notably, the top-line deal Johnson announced also appears to include an additional $69 billion in other side deals. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pegged nondefense discretionary in the pact at roughly $773 billion.

Congress has until Jan. 19 to wrangle through the first tranche of appropriations bills, then until Feb. 2 for the second tranche to avoid a partial government shutdown.

The deal Speaker Johnson announced closely mirrors the top-line figures in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 — the debt limit compromise deal. AP

Conservative hardliners had sought a top-line appropriations figure closer to the $1.47 trillion mark, which bogged down the appropriations process for months.

But in November of last year, the Freedom Caucus’s leadership appeared to relent and indicated that the $1.59 trillion could suffice given the intransigence of Democrats on the matter.

Detractors in the House had pilloried former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for his deal to avoid a default in late May of last year that featured the $1.59 trillion top-line.

At the time, Congress was grappling with the government’s borrowing authority via the debt ceiling. Now, Congress is wrestling with government funding via the appropriations process.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has carefully navigated internal GOP tumult in the House of Representatives. SHAWN THEW/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

After the debt limit deal, Republican hardliners spent months pressing for deeper cuts, bogging down the appropriations process.

At the end of September when the fiscal year was about to close and Congress needed to fund the government or risk a shutdown, McCarthy furnished a temporary spending patch.

That prompted firebrand Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and seven other Republicans to band together with a solid bloc of Democrats to depose him, thrusting the lower chamber into paralysis for nearly a month.

Johnson, who was unanimously installed as McCarthy’s successor last year, conceded that the new bargain “won’t satisfy everyone” and does “not cut as much spending as many of us would like.”

“This deal does provide us a path to: 1) move the process forward; 2) reprioritize funding within the topline towards conservative objectives, instead of last year’s Schumer-Pelosi omnibus; and 3) fight for the important policy riders,” he stressed, alluding to future clashes with Democrats.

Chuck Schumer had tried hard last month to ink a border deal before the upper chamber adjourned for winter break. AP

Democratic leadership hailed the agreement.

“We have made clear to Speaker Mike Johnson that Democrats will not support including poison pill policy changes in any of the twelve appropriations bills put before the Congress,” Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said in a joint statement.

“By securing the $772.7 billion for non-defense discretionary funding, we can protect key domestic priorities like veterans benefits, health care and nutrition assistance from the draconian cuts sought by right-wing extremists.”

With the top-line levels now seemingly ironed out, Congress will need to pass 12 appropriations bills to avert the shutdown. So far, no appropriation bill has been approved by both chambers.

Both the House and the Senate are set to reconvene this week after lawmakers adjourned last month for winter break.

President Biden signaled that he’s on board with the new spending deal.

The White House similarly lauded the development.

“[It] moves us one step closer to preventing a needless government shutdown and protecting important national priorities,” President Biden said in a statement Sunday.

“Now, congressional Republicans must do their job, stop threatening to shut down the government, and fulfill their basic responsibility to fund critical domestic and national security priorities, including my supplemental request.”

That supplemental request Biden referenced appears to have also overcome key hurdles.

Last October, he requested Congress green-light a sprawling $106 billion supplemental package including aid to war-torn Ukraine, Israel, the southern border, and more.

Some 60 House Republicans paid a visit to the US-Mexico border last week, assailing the Biden administration’s track record on the issue. AP

Advancement of that deal had been hung up by wide differences over border security provisions, which have been subject to negotiations by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)

Lankford, who had long been gloomy about the prospects of getting a deal done quickly, expressed optimism that the text for the border agreement could come this week.

“Text hopefully this week, to be able to get that out. Everybody will have time to be able to read and go through it. No one’s going to be jammed in this process,” Lankford told “Fox News Sunday.”

“This agreement has to work. Everyone’s counting on this actually working.”

Border Patrol has faced record-smashing encounters down south. AP

To clear the Senate, the compromise will need to muster 60 votes to overcome the filibuster. Then it will need to get approval from the House.

There are still lingering questions about how that deal tackles major policy flashpoints such as handling asylum seekers and immigration parole policy.

Both the border and top-line funding deals pose another key test to Johnson’s nascent speakership over the increasingly narrowing GOP majority in the House.

Republicans’ already threadbare majority is expected to slip to 219 to the Democrats’ 213 later this month when Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) departs to take the reins as president of Youngstown State University.

Written by SaleemBaloch

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