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Lawmakers race to pass spending package before midnight Friday

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Lawmakers are racing against the clock to pass a package of spending bills before midnight Friday, when funding for several key agencies expires. Leaders released the final text of a spending package in the wee hours of this morning. It includes spending for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends September 30. Joining us now from the Capitol to talk about what's in this package is NPR congressional reporter Barbara Sprunt. Hey, Barbara.

BARBARA SPRUNT, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So surprise, surprise - we are talking about spending deals again.

SPRUNT: Yes. Well, it feels like we've been talking about spending for the better part of a year because we have been...

CHANG: (Laughter).

SPRUNT: ...Talking about it. The fiscal year began nearly six months ago. Congress had to pass a stopgap spending bill in February to prevent a partial government shutdown. And as part of that deal, lawmakers had to pass the first batch of spending bills on March 8. And then they had until March 22, which is tomorrow, to vote for the other package containing the remaining six appropriations bills. Funding for Homeland Security was the remaining sticking point, and that sort of dragged negotiations out well into this week. But this morning early, the text of the final bills was released.

CHANG: Ooh, OK. So this set of bills - it includes spending for things like defense, Homeland Security, labor. What specifics can you tell us about it?

SPRUNT: There's a lot in it. It's a broad package, about $1.2 trillion. There's funding for enhanced border security, more Border Patrol agents and an increase in ICE detention beds. Those are wins for House Republicans, as is a provision that halts funding for UNWRA, the United Nations agency that provides aid to Palestinians. And that halt would be through March of 2025. And this comes after Israel alleged that 12 UNWRA staffers took part in Hamas' brutal attack on Israel on October 7. The Biden administration decided to pause funding for the agency, and if this package is signed, that pause will remain for another year. Democrats have things they're happy about as well, including a billion-dollar increase for child care and early learning programs, along with the authorization of an additional 12,000 special immigrant visas for Afghans who assisted the U.S. during the war in Afghanistan.

CHANG: And you said the deadline is Friday at midnight. That's kind of a quick turnaround for both the House and the Senate to pass this thing, yeah?

SPRUNT: It is a quick turnaround. It's crunch time up here. House speaker Mike Johnson said he expects the House will vote Friday. This doesn't give the full 72 hours that GOP leadership had previously promised to give its members so that they'd have time to read the text. And I will say that has ruffled the feathers of some members of the GOP Freedom Caucus. I spoke to a couple of them yesterday, and they said that 72 hours is what they think is needed to thoroughly vet a package like this. Now, it's worth noting this is a compromise piece of legislation. And by nature, it had to be in order to pass. So it's unlikely that the House Freedom Caucus or progressive Democrats as well, for that matter, were ever going to walk away from this completely happy.

CHANG: Right.

SPRUNT: And Johnson can do this because he expects the majority of the Democratic Conference as well as enough Republicans to support the package. Once the House votes, it goes over to the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already told his members to be prepared to stick around over the weekend. There's significant support from Senate Democrats and Republicans. And even if it goes into the weekend, we don't expect a significant disruption.

CHANG: OK. That is NPR congressional reporter Barbara Sprunt. Thank you so much, Barbara.

SPRUNT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.