Ignoring Freedom Caucus’ demands, House votes to keep government open. In Senate, Bennet votes no due to lack of Ukraine funding

An early morning runner crosses in front of the U.S. Capitol as he runs around the Washington Monument in D.C.

Updated 8:44 a.m., March 23, 2024.

Congress passed a package of six government spending bills late in the night to avert a partial government shutdown.

The $1.2 trillion package funds approximately 70 percent of the government, including the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the legislative branch.

It also included more than $25 million in earmarks requested by Colorado lawmakers. That’s on top of the $125 million in earmarks from the minibus, in the earlier package of six appropriations bills Congress passed two weeks ago.

The Senate passed the bill, 74-24, a couple of hours after the midnight deadline. It takes agreement from all 100 members to move a bill quickly in that chamber, and leaders were negotiating over amendment votes for most of the day.

Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper voted for the package, but fellow Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet voted against the bill, including the earmarks that he requested for the package. 

Bennet took to the floor to explain his vote. He said it was “shameful” that the House did not include support for Ukraine, an issue he has been pushing in Congress for several months. “I think that is a complete abdication of the House's responsibility to our own national security and to democracy around the world.”

"Since Putin’s invasion two years ago, the Ukrainian people have fought on the front lines for freedom and democracy," Bennet said in a statement after the vote. "Tonight, they are running out of bullets and artillery."  

“Over a month ago, the Senate passed a national security package with 70 votes. Speaker Johnson has refused to bring this legislation to the House floor for a vote even though it has bipartisan support," Bennet said.

Speaker Mike Johnson has said he'll bring a national security package to the House floor after the Easter break. However Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has threatened a motion to vacate the chair if he does, potentially setting the stage for a third speaker fight amongst a narrow Republican majority.

Earlier Friday, the House passed the spending package, 286-134. Colorado’s House members voted largely along party lines, with all Democrats in favor, joined by GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn. Republican Reps. Ken Buck and Lauren Boebert voted against it. It was a final anti-spending vote for outgoing Congressman Buck.

In all, more Democrats voted for the bill in the House than Republicans; the chamber’s leaders got less than half of their caucus to support the final package.

When President Joe Biden signs this bill, Congress will have finally completed all of the FY2024 budget, albeit almost six months late and after much drama, including the ousting of and electing a new House Speaker and nick-of-time  passage of several short-term spending bills.

The far-right House Freedom Caucus had called for Republican leadership to pull the bill and let portions of the government shut down; they’re upset with the cost of the bill and what they see as an insufficient response to border security.

The group helped kill a bipartisan border security bill negotiated in the Senate earlier this year. Instead, they have pushed for that chamber to approve the House-passed H.R. 2, which would greatly curtail the asylum process, continue walling off the border and crack down on people already in the country illegally. It was brought up as a Senate amendment and only garnered 32 votes.

They also highlighted what they described as “pro-life & LGBT surrenders” in the funding bill. Among the earmarks are some that would benefit organizations that provide services to LGBTQ community. 

In a social media post retweeted by Boebert, the House Freedom Caucus highlighted as one of their “shocking finds” an earmark for $845,000 for Envision: You in Colorado, “which is entirely focused on LGBTQ+ individuals” and they wrote the group has “a range of woke programs.”

The Denver group focuses on improving LGBTQ+ mental health and the money, per Bennet’s Congressionally Directed Spending website, will “help expand the current provider outreach and vetting system to better support the LGBTQ+ community. Funding will continue an ongoing pilot program for online mental support and establish a supportive network of peers and allies.”  

Congress will start work on next year’s budget when it returns from its two-week recess.

Colorado Earmarks