WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Tuesday sought a way to avoid a government shutdown amid deep divisions in their ranks over federal spending, debating how to strike a compromise with the Democratic-led Senate and the president Joe Biden just 10 days from the funding deadline.
There was little movement in the House or Senate as lawmakers reviewed a litany of possible funding mechanisms, none of which have strong support in either chamber. They found themselves in the same predicament they faced in September, when Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown just hours before the deadline.
With the House led by a new, untested leader, Speaker Mike Johnson, lawmakers in both parties were unsure exactly what he might do.
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“Everything is as clear as mud,” Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., said as he emerged from a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement where Johnson briefed his members on a series of potential spending strategies.
Barely a month ago, far-right, anti-spending Republicans ousted the President. Kevin McCarthy after narrowly passing legislation to avoid a shutdown and extend the federal funding deadline to November 17 using Democratic votes.
With this temporary funding measure set to expire in a few days, Johnson appears determined to avoid a repeat of the circumstances that doomed his predecessor. That means he’ll have to rally nearly all Republicans to pass a government funding measure, a considerable feat given his party’s resistance to federal spending.
“We certainly want to avoid a government shutdown,” Johnson said. “The world is going through dangerous times right now. We recognize that and we do our job.
Johnson said House Republicans would reveal their government funding plan “as soon as possible.”
While the far-right Republicans who ousted McCarthy say they are willing to give the considerably more conservative Johnson more leeway than his predecessor, the task has, in some ways, become more daunting. Now, in addition to facing a new shutdown scenario, Congress is also debating a separate request from Biden for $105 billion in emergency national security aid for Israel and Ukraine.
At the closed-door meeting beneath the Capitol Tuesday morning, Johnson presented a menu of spending strategies to his conference. These included passing a temporary measure that would extend government funding until early 2024 and contains a handful of conservative policies, as well as negotiating a deal directly with the Senate.
Some far-right conservatives have supported a third option, which Johnson also discussed, that would fund some government agencies for just a few weeks and others for a longer period.
The discussion amounted to a concession that House Republicans’ preferred way of funding the government — passing a dozen individual spending bills — was no longer feasible with less than two weeks to go, and after wasting three weeks fighting over who should be president. after McCarthy’s ouster.
They still hope to pass as many spending bills as possible to put themselves in a stronger bargaining position for negotiations with the Senate. But Johnson faced the same headwinds as McCarthy in passing the funding measures, with some politically vulnerable Republicans reluctant to support bills with deep cuts and conservative policies.
“At the end of the day, we have a speaker who wants to get this done, who understands that we’re going to need a little more time,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., one of the main responsible. “And then the question is: what is the best way? »
The idea of a phased spending deal has been met with a cold reaction from members of both parties in the Senate, where attempts to find a compromise on spending have largely stalled as lawmakers wait for Republicans to the House set a marker of what they are willing to support.
“It seems to me that programs and agencies would constantly stop and start, stop and start,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee. “And so I think that would increase the difficulty.”
The fight to keep the government open was unfolding alongside Congressional consideration of the White House’s emergency funding request for Israel, Ukraine and other national security needs. The House passed a partisan bill last week to fund Israel, which died upon arrival in the Senate, but the Senate has yet to offer a counterproposal.
At the same time, top Senate Republicans opposed any aid to Israel and Ukraine that did not include significant changes to immigration policy and money, even though Democrats led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York quickly rejected their initial offer as unacceptable.
“Conditioning funding to Ukraine on far-right border policies that can never pass Congress is a grave mistake by our Republican colleagues,” Schumer said. “By tying Ukraine to the border, Republicans are unfortunately making it more difficult – much more difficult – for us to help Ukraine in its fight against Putin.”
The Senate Republicans’ position was something of a departure from a group that primarily favored continuing aid to Ukraine.
“If I were him, I would not underestimate the level of resistance he will encounter if the border issue is not addressed,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican, told Schumer’s remarks. “We’re just not going to find members willing to vote for any type of supplemental package that doesn’t include that.”
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