The White House on Thursday urged Congress to adopt a short-term measure to fund the federal government, a move meant to buy time for lawmakers to craft a broader spending deal and avert a shutdown at the end of September.

The Biden administration coupled its call to action with a new request that Congress address funding for a series of cash-starved programs – including, for example, an additional $1.4 billion to prevent a potential disruption in nutritional aid for low-income families.

Biden Congress Government Shutdown

President Biden delivers remarks on recovery efforts for the Maui wildfires and the response to Hurricane Idalia, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Wednesday in Washington. Evan Vucci/Associated Press

For the second time this year, the United States finds itself barreling toward a crisis: Unless Congress acts, the government will run out of money on Sept. 30, triggering a shutdown that jeopardizes countless federal programs on which millions of Americans rely.

Democrats and Republicans for months have tried to advance a series of appropriations bills that would fund the government through the 2024 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. But the two parties remain vastly opposed on the specifics, with House Republicans seeking spending cuts so deep that Biden and his Democratic allies refuse to entertain them.

The GOP demands mark a sharp break with the deal that party leaders, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., worked out with the president this spring to raise the nation’s debt limit – an agreement that was supposed to prevent another stalemate over spending this fall. Now, the Biden administration is explicitly asking Congress to adopt what is known as a continuing resolution, preserving most spending at its existing levels as negotiations proceed.

“Although the crucial work continues to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills, it is clear that a short-term continuing resolution (CR) will be needed next month,” a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget said Thursday.


Even with such a stopgap, though, OMB said some federal accounts would need spending increases. That includes the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, known as WIC, which provides monthly aid to roughly 6.6 million poor families. With food prices still high and program participation on the rise, its existing, roughly $5.69 billion budget is not sufficient to provide benefits at their current level through next fiscal year, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe its finances.

Without an additional $1.4 billion, the program – funded by the federal government, and managed by the states – may be forced in the coming year to “implement waiting lists, causing women and children to go hungry and pushing vulnerable families into poverty,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday. Its participants could also see benefit cuts without more spending, since the new money would help sustain a pandemic-era boost to the amount that families receive to purchase fruits and vegetables.

“This is something that Congress can do. They can prevent a government shutdown. They need to prevent a government shutdown,” she said.

The new White House call for funding stands in stark contrast with the plan put forward by House Republicans, who instead seek to roll back that expansion – which could reduce the amount some WIC recipients receive for fruits and vegetables to about $11 per month. The GOP proposal underfunds the nutrition aid program by about $800 million compared with Biden’s original budget request, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The issue only underscores the stakes in Washington’s perennial battle over the budget, which has become especially acrimonious ahead of next year’s elections. Some on the GOP’s far-right flank have openly courted the idea of a shutdown, once again hoping to use the threat of a fiscal calamity as leverage to achieve steep spending cuts.

Earlier this month, McCarthy and his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., each signaled early support for a continuing resolution that might offer lawmakers more time to craft a full-year spending deal. Schumer later described the discussions as a “good sign,” while McCarthy pitched the idea as a way for his party to continue its “investigations and everything else,” a reference to the party’s ongoing work to probe Biden and his family.


“Honestly, it’s a pretty big mess,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said about the appropriations process during an event in Covington, Ky., on Wednesday. He predicted lawmakers would adopt a “short-term” deal into December while “we struggle to figure out exactly what the government’s spending level is going to be.”

But conservatives have resisted the idea, once again illustrating how the powerful far-right bloc could frustrate any attempt to reach a deal. As lawmakers departed for their annual August recess, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Tex., – a top member of the House Freedom Caucus – pledged on local radio to “use every tool I have at my disposal” to stop a short-term spending deal that doesn’t include conservatives’ priorities.

On Thursday, the White House said any funding stopgap must include a series of other special budget fixes, known as anomalies, including $1.9 billion for the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The U.S. government expects an estimated 300,000 new arrivals from Haiti and Cuba, according to OMB, warranting the extra funding.

The Biden administration also asked Congress to allow federal agencies to spend more rapidly to prepare for pandemics, oversee Medicare, process student loan applications and payments, and review claims for Social Security benefits.

At the same time, the Biden administration also reiterated its earlier call for Congress to approve another $20.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine, including funds for military and humanitarian support. And OMB urged lawmakers to approve $12 billion in disaster relief and other domestic funds, especially as Idalia lashes Florida just weeks after the catastrophic Hawaiian wildfires on Maui.

“Just as the Congress and the Administration came together to reach a funding agreement for the current fiscal year (FY) that delivers for the American people, I am confident that we can do the same for FY 2024,” OMB Director Shalanda Young wrote in a letter to lawmakers earlier this month.

Young added the request reflected “critical needs for emergency funding” that lawmakers should include “as part of a potential short-term continuing resolution for the first quarter of FY 2024,” covering the final months of this calendar year.

In an urgent appeal this week, Deanne Criswell, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said its primary disaster-response account had reached a dangerously low balance, now at $3.4 billion. That, she said, had forced the agency to focus on “immediate needs,” and raised the prospect that FEMA could struggle in the face of long-term budget challenges.

“I want to stress that while immediate-needs funding will ensure we can continue to respond to disasters, it is not a permanent solution,” Criswell told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “Congress must work with us on the supplemental request that the administration has made on behalf of FEMA.”

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