WASHINGTON - A federal government shutdown this weekend looks increasingly likely, as House Republicans indicated Wednesday they would not consider a bipartisan Senate plan to fund the government past the weekend deadline.
In light of the standoff in Congress, the White House Office of Management and Budget told federal agencies Wednesday to be prepared to notify their employees of the status of government funding, two people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal planning. Those updates will occur Thursday morning, as part of the government’s mandatory contingency process.
Agencies will begin notifying employees sometime this week about whether they will be furloughed, but it is unclear exactly when. Senior officials across the federal government have already begun discussing who will be furloughed and who will continue working without pay, one of the people said.
On Capitol Hill, the two chambers are working on diverging tracks to extend government funding, which is set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. The Senate worked Wednesday on a bill to continue funding at current levels into mid-November, which would also supply some of the billions of dollars President Biden seeks for U.S. aid to Ukraine and for natural disaster relief. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) rejected that measure, telling his conference in a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning that he would not put the Senate bill on the floor in its current form.
There appeared to be no talks underway between the House and the Senate to craft a short-term spending bill that both chambers can agree on. Instead, each chamber will try to pass its own legislation and challenge the other to take it up or reject it.
Biden said a shutdown would be “disastrous.”
“We made a deal,” Biden said in remarks to a Democratic fundraiser in San Francisco on Wednesday night, referring to an agreement with McCarthy in June to suspend the U.S. debt ceiling and set federal spending limits for this year. “Now they come along and say . . . we didn’t mean it.”
McCarthy, in private meetings this week, has started to float alternative plans for the GOP-controlled House to counter the Democratic-controlled Senate’s bipartisan progress. The speaker has suggested taking the Senate’s short-term bill, stripping it of provisions House Republicans oppose — including emergency aid for Ukraine and domestic disaster victims — 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 short-term spending bill, called a continuing resolution, or CR, on Friday, which would include funding for border security, in a signal of defiance to the Senate. Exactly how long the CR would last remains up in the air, but the contours largely follow the deal struck last week by the pragmatic Main Street Caucus and the Freedom Caucus. That would mean cutting spending levels for most of the federal government by about 8 percent but leaving spending on the military and veterans untouched.
If the government shuts down, House GOP leaders would consider trying to pass week-long short-term funding measures that would cut federal spending significantly from current levels. The GOP would attempt to send one after another to the Senate and dare Democrats in the upper chamber to swat them down. In the meantime, the House would continue working on appropriations bills, the longer-term measures that fund federal agencies and programs for a full fiscal year.
But the House GOP might lack the votes to pass any short-term bills, and controversial provisions and amendments in the annual appropriations bills could force McCarthy to withhold them from the floor, too.
“That is going to make a difference as we go to the finish line this week,” House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said Wednesday. “But that’s not the finish line because we’re going to have probably more [appropriations bills] in the next couple of weeks to come. And as the process goes forward, everybody will be heard. We’ll see what happens.”
The logjam between the chambers appeared to upset even Republicans in the Senate, some of whom 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 (W.Va.), vice chair of the GOP conference, added, referring to the results of an August poll. “And I’m in that 77 percent.”
Biden and McCarthy 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. Accounting for inflation, that would be a cut from current spending levels.
But far-right members of McCarthy’s conference have demanded a lower spending level and threatened to boot McCarthy from the speakership if he does 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.
“One thing you’re seeing in the Republican majority is we are rewriting the muscle memory of how Congress works,” Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Tex.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday.
Senate Democrats kept the pressure up on the GOP.
“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 spent Wednesday debating legislation that would cover parts of the government for the whole 2024 fiscal year. While bills funding the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security for a full year are expected to get enough support, leaders are already contemplating not holding a vote for the bills to fund the departments of Agriculture and State because of policy differences within the House GOP.
Most notably, vulnerable Republicans who represent districts Biden won in 2020 remain opposed to strict provisions within the agriculture bill that would curtail access to medication abortions. Rep. Marcus J. Molinaro (R-N.Y.) said there is a “general concern” among “a number” of Republicans who can’t support it.
House Republican leadership is banking on those bills passing as a show of goodwill to win over hard-right holdouts who oppose short-term funding measures. Several — enough to thwart a short-term funding bill on a party-line vote — have said they would never support a temporary spending extension, all but guaranteeing a shutdown.
The Senate debated its own short-term spending bill, which easily cleared a procedural hurdle Tuesday evening. But that drew GOP objections, too, as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) threatened to slow its passage because he opposes sending more aid to Ukraine.
Paul and other Senate GOP dissenters, including Rick Scott (Fla.), could use floor time to delay the Senate’s final vote on the funding bill until Sunday or Monday — past the shutdown deadline. Leaders of both parties were negotiating agreements to allow votes on a small number of amendments in exchange for a swifter path to passage.
“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 White House budget office said in a statement that the House needs to act.
“It is up to House Republicans to do their jobs and prevent a needless government shutdown that would damage our economy, our communities, and our national security,” the statement said. “In the meantime, prudent planning requires that the government plan for the possibility of a lapse in funding.”
The Senate’s 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.
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.