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White House warns that looming government shutdown would cut food aid for millions

The right-wing House Freedom Caucus is leading a Republican push for significant cuts to appropriations bills.

By Oliver Willis - August 31, 2023
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Kevin McCarthy
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) holds a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 27, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The White House Office of Management and Budget on Thursday warned that if Congress fails to pass a short-term spending bill before Sept. 30, programs that millions of Americans rely on for food and nutritional assistance could be severely curtailed.

“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,” an OMB spokesperson told the Washington Post.

Congress and President Joe Biden need to pass appropriation bills or a stopgap spending bill before the Sept. 30 deadline, when the current fiscal year ends, to continue funding government operations. If an agreement is not reached, federal functions deemed nonessential will cease operation.

The White House said that unless Congress provides an additional $1.4 billion to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, the current budget of approximately $5.69 billion would not be sufficient to fund operations over the next fiscal year. According to the Department of Agriculture, 6.3 million people participated in the program for each month of 2022.

WIC provides checks and vouchers for the purchase of food by families determined by their income levels to be at nutritional risk. Those funds are sent to state agencies from the federal government.

The White House said that failure to pass a stopgap bill could also impact the Department of Agriculture’s Rental Assistance Program, possibly resulting in the evictions of low-income tenants and defaults on housing loans, and a delay in the deployment by the Department of Defense of strategic ballistic missile submarines of up to 20 months.

Biden signed a bill in June following a bipartisan agreement on spending levels for the government. But since then, many House Republicans have continued to push for appropriations bills with significant cuts instead of maintaining current levels of spending.

The House agriculture appropriations bill currently under consideration would cut or eliminate food assistance for an estimated 5.3 million young children and pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding adults, according to analysis from the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The push for cuts has been led by the conservative House Freedom Caucus. In a release, the caucus said its members would not vote to pass a spending bill that did not include immigration restrictions, address the “weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI,” and end “the Left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon.”

Before leaving for its summer recess, the House only passed one of 12 required appropriations bills. At the same time, the Democratic-led Senate has advanced 12 appropriations bills through the Appropriations Committee.

“To avoid a government shutdown, the House should follow the Senate’s lead and pass their appropriations bills in a bipartisan way,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Politico.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday noted the disparity between the bipartisan agreement and cuts that House Republicans have demanded.

“The House then turned around and passed spending levels that were below that level,” McConnell told reporters. “Without stating an opinion about that, that’s not going to be replicated in the Senate.”

On Sunday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy acknowledged that a government shutdown “hurts the American public” and said that he favored a short-term continuing resolution “only to make our argument stronger” for removing what he called “those Pelosi policies that are locked into law right now, the woke-ism.”

The White House called out Republicans’ deviation from the agreement on the earlier spending bill. “This was a bipartisan agreement from both sides,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing on Wednesday. “There’s no reason, no reason at all, that Congress should be going down the path of shutting down this government.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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