Shutdown odds grow as House GOP leaders reject Senate's spending bill
Washington ― A federal government shutdown looked increasingly likely as House Republicans indicated Wednesday they would not consider a bipartisan Senate plan to fund the government past the weekend deadline.
The Senate is working on a bill to continue funding the government at current levels into mid-November, which would also provision some of the billions of dollars President Biden seeks for U.S. aide to Ukraine and for natural disaster relief. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) swiftly rejected that idea, telling his conference in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that he would not put the Senate bill on the floor in its current form.
In other private meetings this week, McCarthy began to float the idea of taking the Senate's short-term bill, stripping it of provisions the House GOP opposes, then tacking on a House-passed border security bill and sending it back to the Senate. Separately, McCarthy and his allies have continued to encourage their colleagues to pass a 30-day short-term spending bill Friday, which would include border security, in a signal of defiance to the Senate. Exactly what that bill would include remained up in the air Wednesday afternoon.
The different tactics nearly guarantee a government shutdown, unless lawmakers can force some other long-shot solution. The two chambers working in opposition to one another probably won't have enough time to pass a stopgap spending bill - called a continuing resolution, or CR - before the current funding laws expire at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
The logjam between the chambers appeared to upset even Republicans in the Senate, who have fought - and faced political consequences from - government shutdowns in previous years.
"It's important to remember that if we shut down the government, for those of us who are concerned about the border and want it to be improved, the Border Patrol and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents have to continue to work for nothing," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. "The Senate and the House are quite different, as you know, and I think in the Senate, we're going to continue to try to reach an agreement, pass it on a bipartisan basis, and hopefully keep the government open."
"Seventy-seven percent of the American people do not think we should shut the government down," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), vice chair of the GOP caucus, added, referring to the results of an August poll. "And I'm in that 77 percent."
McCarthy and President Biden worked out a deal in June that was supposed to avert this round of back-and-forth. During those talks, Republicans agreed to suspend the debt limit - the amount of money the federal government can borrow to pay for previously approved spending - in exchange for limiting nondefense spending in 2024 to about $1.6 trillion. That would be a cut from current spending levels, accounting for inflation.
But far-right members of McCarthy's caucus have demanded a lower spending level and threatened to boot McCarthy from the speakership if he did not comply. Instead of attempting to pass a short-term government funding bill with Democratic votes, McCarthy has tried to extract more concessions by abandoning the deal he struck in May.
In remarks in San Francisco, Biden told reporters he didn't think a shutdown was certain: "I don't think anything is inevitable in politics."
"If we have a government shutdown, a lot of vital work and science and health could be impacted from cancer research, to food safety," the president said. "So the American people need our Republican friends in the House of Representatives to do their job: Fund the government."
Back in Washington, Democrats sounded the same message.
"Speaker McCarthy: The only way - the only way - out of a shutdown is bipartisanship," Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday in a floor speech. "And by constantly adhering to what the hard right wants, you're aiming for a shutdown. They want it, you know it, you can stop it. Work in a bipartisan way, like we are in the Senate, and we can avoid harm to tens of millions of Americans."
The House was slated to spend Wednesday debating legislation that would cover parts of the government for the whole 2024 fiscal year. The GOP-led chamber passed a procedural vote Tuesday night to advance a bundle of those bills - similar votes had failed earlier this week and last week as McCarthy fends off a rebellion from his right flank.
The Senate moved into debate on its own short-term spending bill, which easily cleared a procedural hurdle of its own Tuesday evening. But that drew GOP objections, too, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) threatened to slow its passage because he opposes sending more aid to Ukraine.
"I would hope that cooler heads will prevail, but at this point, we have to be prepared for a short term shutdown," Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said Tuesday. The House does not yet have a short-term spending bill queued up. But neither chamber is in position to wrap up work before the funding deadline. If government spending isn't extended, a shutdown would close certain federal agencies, deprive military service members and government employees of paychecks, hamstring crucial antipoverty programs and delay assistance to natural disaster victims.
The Senate's short-term bill, which drew support from 28 Republicans as well as all present Democrats, would extend federal government funding at current levels until Nov. 17, and includes $6.2 billion in emergency assistance for Ukraine and $6 billion for domestic disaster relief.
The House, if it does consider legislation for a temporary extension, would cut spending by 8 percent for all federal agencies except the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. It would package those cuts with a border security bill that House Republicans passed earlier in the year.
"We've got a problem, national security problem and an economic problem, particularly with the border. That's our leverage point," Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), an influential member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Wednesday morning.
McConnell declined to throw his support behind the idea of a Senate funding measure with Ukraine aid stripped out to try to ease passage in the House, where enough Republicans are opposed to more Ukraine assistance to keep any bill from passing with solely GOP votes.
"I'm comfortable with the way we put together the Senate bill," McConnell said in a rare show of bipartisanship. "It basically is trying to do just a continuation until November 17. I think this crafted package is a result of a lot of discussion. I think it makes sense for the Senate. I also think it makes sense for the country and that's what I intend to support."
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Matt Viser contributed to this report.
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