Congressional Budget Struggles

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #118 | By: William Bourque | January 26, 2024
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The Congressional budget process is long and complex, throwing even the wonkiest of policy nerds for a loop. The biggest issue with the appropriation of funds is that the GOP doesn’t really want to do it. With Speaker McCarthy, GOP hardliners insisted that if he were to pass a continuing resolution that it would be the end of his tenure…and they weren’t bluffing. Speaker Johnson has put himself in a precarious position to say the least.

With a recently passed continuing resolution, Congress will have until March 1st for some agencies and March 8th for others. The legislation continues funding the government at current levels through that time, which hopefully allows time for a Republican-led House to get in order to pass a budget. The Senate, led by a slim Democratic majority, has generally been the leader in budget negotiations, with House Freedom Caucus members and inexperienced Speaker Mike Johnson struggling to find agreement.

The new agreement essentially gives the GOP more time to negotiate with the White House on immigration reform and Ukraine funding. Many GOP insiders say that they are likely to cave on the Ukraine funding if it means getting promises on harder immigration policy from the Biden Administration. In reality, the biggest spending fights this year will be on foreign spending on weapons and support for Ukraine and Israel, as well as the ongoing influx of immigration. The funding for Ukraine is something that is expected to be maintained, albeit at a lower rate. Funding for Israel, however, may be on the chopping block due to public opinion on the Israeli government’s actions in the occupied Gaza Strip. In a December poll by Pew, 59% of respondents believed that the Israeli government was at least partially responsible for the ongoing war. Biden’s support amongst progressives, Arab-Americans, and Americans under 25 has been waning over his handling of the conflict—and Congress will likely follow.

With immigration spending, many Republicans are focused on the Southern border, perhaps too much. Essentially, the Biden White House is going to make a deal with the GOP that they may have been aiming for anyways—but the GOP will provide sufficient political cover to make it happen. The money will likely be allocated for more border patrol officers as well as giving more ability to deport individuals who may be seen as high-threat. Immigration will be a top issue in the 2024 Presidential election, which is why Biden would be smart to take a harder line.

While they won’t be hugely controversial, there are a few other items that will be high-spend issues this year. Look for increased spending to come out of a final rule-making process for many government agencies as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law continues ramping up. These projects are key in many rural communities across the nation, and Biden will speak at length about this achievement on the campaign trail. Another huge Biden win was the Inflation Reduction Act, which is largely a climate and energy bill. Look for an increase in appropriations for renewable energy projects as well as transmission across the nation. This funding will be used to build utility-scale solar and wind power platforms as well as invest in the new hydrogen hubs program. Offshore wind projects are also becoming a present-day item, so expect to see increased funding in this year’s appropriations package—whenever it gets passed.

The controversial Congressional budget items will continue to be discussed up to the March 1st and 8th deadlines—with the ever-present threat of shutdown looming. Expect more of the same nonsense from Republicans, who will certainly lose their majority come January ’25.

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