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Spending text could be delayed until Thursday

Well, here we are again. It’s Wednesday. The federal government (partially) shuts down at midnight on Friday. And text for the six-bill minibus still hasn’t been released yet. We’re now hearing we may not see text of the package until Thursday.

Party leaders, appropriators and the White House very much want text out today. Yet the 118th Congress has shown that deadlines are just dreams waiting to be crushed. So don’t assume anything.

This final FY2024 spending package includes the Defense, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS, Legislative Branch, Financial Services-General Government and State-Foreign Operations bills. That’s roughly three-quarters of all federal discretionary spending.

Homeland Security was the big problem, of course. As we told you in the Tuesday AM edition, Speaker Mike Johnson’s office and senior White House officials spent two days negotiating on that bill. What was once going to be a full-year continuing resolution with “anomalies” became a regular appropriations bill. Several billion dollars in new spending on enforcement measures was added, with both sides claiming wins. As we scooped Tuesday, leadership added 12,000 visas for Afghans who helped the U.S. in Afghanistan.

The House will move first on the massive FY2024 spending package. Johnson and his top lieutenants want to hold votes on this bill on Friday, just hours before the midnight shutdown deadline. That’s a tight timeline. But Congress is on the brink of a two-week recess, so there’s a strong bipartisan desire to get it done. Jet fumes and all that. Plus, Republicans and Democrats fear they will have attendance issues if a vote slips to Saturday.

“We’ve got the agreement reached. Hopefully the text will be filed by the morning,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said. “The objective is to have it voted on before the end of the deadline [March 22]. So obviously we’re looking at Friday. No final decision has been made, but that’s what we’re looking at.”

In order to get that Friday vote, Johnson really needs text to come out today. The problem is some sources involved in the talks see that goal slipping away. Heading into the week, Johnson’s leadership team simply didn’t think that the speaker would be able to waive the 72-hour review period for legislation — especially on a package that totals more than $1 trillion and touches on immigration, defense and social safety-net policy.

But in Johnson’s Daily Management Meeting Tuesday afternoon, there was consensus that the GOP leadership could collapse that timeframe without much hassle. Then in the Elected Leadership Committee meeting — a much larger group — Johnson said he’d like to hold a vote Friday or Saturday.

Going into the ELC session, conservatives were suggesting that Johnson needed to adhere to the three-day review period. But afterward, RSC Chair Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) admitted that the review period won’t make much difference for a bipartisan bill being considered under suspension. “The 72-hour rule is not going to change anybody from a ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ or a ‘yes’ to a ‘no,’’’ Hern said.

There’s a House Republican Conference meeting this morning. Johnson will sell the yet-to-be-released deal to the rank and file and get a true sense of how much he can speed up passage of the minibus package. Johnson also met with the House Freedom Caucus Tuesday evening with the same goal.

Johnson is certainly getting more comfortable with the realities of the speakership. You need to get a deal, stick to it and get it through the chamber. House Financial Services Committee Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), speaking at a Punchbowl News event Tuesday, said Johnson is “improving week over week” as speaker. “He’s landed deals,” McHenry said.

“Do not fear the deal,” McHenry added. “You have to go land those legislative priorities in order to show power and to exercise power. … He has now landed his second big deal as speaker.”

The Senate: Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday he’ll put the funding package on the floor immediately once it’s received from the House. Without a time agreement, it could take several days for this to pass.

Already, GOP aides say at least a dozen amendment votes have been requested — many of which center on immigration and border security. Republican leaders are trying to get this sorted out on the front end to minimize the last-minute haggling.

But passing the minibus on Friday or Saturday will require a unanimous-consent agreement — meaning those who want amendment votes must first agree to speed things up. The GOP amendments would be quickly rejected, and senators would move to final passage.

“I’m certainly willing to try to convince our conference to agree to time limits so we can get out of here,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who has submitted several amendments, told us. “There’s no reason to let these things go to the very end [and] threaten a shutdown.”

Of course, any one senator can drag out this process. But senators are staring down a two-week recess filled with home-state travel and CODELs, so there’s little interest in delaying the inevitable. And recesses have a funny way of speeding things up. A little “Senate magic” can go a long way.

Also today: We scooped last night that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address Senate Republicans via video during their lunch today. This is especially interesting given Schumer’s comments last week calling for new elections.

— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.