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Murray: Johnson’s funding fallback would be ‘absolutely devastating’

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The Senate’s top Democratic appropriator is warning that accepting Speaker Mike Johnson’s fallback idea for government funding would be “absolutely devastating” for federal agencies and families across the country if bipartisan spending negotiations falter.

“It’s dangerous and a non-starter,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray said in an interview on Wednesday. “Everybody needs to understand that it’s dangerous, and we can’t go there.”

Johnson has floated an extension of the current stopgap spending bill through the end of the fiscal year, with “appropriate adjustments,” if House Republicans and Senate Democrats can’t reach a government funding deal for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.

While the speaker’s proposal sounds innocuous, Murray stressed that it has never been done and would result in major cuts to critical domestic programs, including nutrition assistance for women and children, federal hiring, food safety and medical research.

“That’s not negotiating,” Murray (D-Wash.) said. “That’s holding hostage, and we’re not going to bow to that.”

Key context: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Senate’s top Republican appropriator, and military officials have also warned that a full-year stopgap would hurt military personnel, Navy shipbuilding, readiness investments and other defense priorities.

Thanks to the funding limits set by the bipartisan debt limit deal earlier this year, non-defense funding would plummet from $777 billion to $704 billion if the current stopgap spending bill is extended through the rest of the fiscal year, resulting in a $73 billion cut. Defense funding would increase from $860 billion to $886 billion, forgoing more than $26 billion allowed under the debt limit agreement.

Murray said Johnson must accept the numbers and terms established by the debt deal so that House and Senate appropriators can move forward with bipartisan, bicameral negotiations over a dozen annual funding bills, with federal cash set to expire for a chunk of the government on Jan. 19.

“We’re absolutely stuck,” Murray said, “because we don’t have his agreement to write these bills to the agreement that’s already been signed into law.”

What’s next: Johnson’s staff is quietly negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s staff on overall government funding totals to allow that process to begin. But Murray said she is concerned about those topline talks, particularly after House conservatives recently demanded scrapping a handshake agreement accompanying the debt limit deal, which would add tens of billions of dollars to non-defense funding.

“It’s reneging on what was already agreed to,” Murray said, stressing that the Senate has written its annual spending bills in line with the debt limit deal.

“You don’t go back and say, ‘Oh now that you’ve done all the work, we’re going to take away one of your hands.’ That’s not how you negotiate,” she said. “We need this deal, and we need it now.”