By Alan Fram
Federal agencies would be financed for another month under bipartisan legislation approved by the House on Tuesday, the latest emblem of Congress' persistent inability to finish its budget work on time.
Senate passage, expected perhaps next week, will send the bill to President Joe Biden for his signature. Without that the government would deplete its spending authority on Feb. 18 and have to shutter most of its doors, an election-year embarrassment that neither party wants, and it will not happen.
The bill includes $350 million to address leaking military fuel tanks that have contaminated drinking water near Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, and nearly 6,000 people have complained of illness. The military has moved around 4,000 families into hotels and flown in water treatment systems from the U.S. mainland.
Tuesday's House vote was 272-162. All but one voting Democrat supported the bill, but it was opposed by more than 3 in 4 Republicans, who often use such votes to portray themselves as fiscal conservatives.
The short-term measure would fund government at last year’s levels through March 11. Congressional leaders say they hope that will give bargainers time to reach agreement on overall spending totals, and then write the 12 bills that spell out details on how agencies will spend that money.
Those bills finance everything from the armed forces to programs for education, the environment, veterans and public health. In addition, a portion of the 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure bill — about $14 billion this year — can't be committed to projects until Congress approves a spending bill formally providing the money.
The government's budget year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. It's been many years since Congress has finished all its budget bills by Oct. 1 because of partisan fights over priorities.
“No one wins" when Congress has to rely on short-term legislation to finance agencies piecemeal, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. The top Republican on that panel, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, said that while no one wants another stopgap bill, “the alternative is much worse" — a reference to a federal shutdown.