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Congress begins to admit it’s running out of time to avoid a government shutdown

Congress is rapidly running out of ways to keep the government open past Saturday, after House Republicans on Friday failed to pass a short-term bill to extend the deadline and the Senate prepared a schedule for its own temporary funding bill that could delay a vote on final passage until after a shutdown begins.

Lawmakers quietly began acknowledging Friday that a lapse in appropriations appeared inevitable, though officially, leaders in both parties and both chambers insisted they would keep working and could find a solution in time.

But a grim reality started setting in by late afternoon. In a bid for the support of some of the far-right members who have insisted on steep spending reductions, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pushed ahead with a vote on short-term funding legislation that would have immediately cut most nondefense government programs by 30 percent. It still failed, 232-198, after 21 Republicans joined every Democrat in opposition.

“There’s not many options left,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), admitting it was “frustrating that 21 people who claim to be conservatives” would vote with Democrats to “tank a plan that was very conservative.”

The legislation would fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate but reflects the lengths to which McCarthy is willing to go to pass a GOP-only bill to fund the government out of the House. Politically, its passage would have offered Republicans a firmer starting point in negotiations with the Senate.

It was not immediately clear what McCarthy’s next step was. Talking to reporters after the vote failed, he chuckled and said, “It’s not the end yet. I’ve got other ideas.” But after a two-hour conference meeting, no compromise was evident, according to people familiar with the discussions who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail the closed-door meeting.

After the meeting, McCarthy told reporters lawmakers should work on a “clean CR” — a bill to extend government funding at current levels, without the sharp cuts the GOP has sought, and also without additional money for Ukraine, natural disasters or border security. It wasn’t immediately clear whether such a proposal could pass either chamber.

On the other side of the Capitol, some Republican senators appeared Friday to back away from a bipartisan agreement to avoid a government shutdown, insisting either on adding money for border security or eliminating billions of dollars in emergency assistance for Ukraine. Many House Republicans want border funding added to a stopgap bill and don’t support any Ukraine aid. But Senate Republicans, too, lacked consensus.

Funding for Ukraine remains popular among most Republicans in the upper chamber. And an hours-long midday meeting did not yield any firm proposal on border policy to add to the Senate’s version of a stopgap bill. (The Senate bill would run for about two weeks longer than the version the House voted down Friday.)

“There’s interest, but no unanimity in any way,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said. “Since I’ve been here, this looks about as complicated as you could get.”

Twenty-eight Senate Republicans joined all present Democrats earlier in the week to support a procedural motion to advance the continuing resolution, which includes more than $6 billion in Ukraine aid and roughly the same amount for relief for natural disasters in the United States. Asked if that package could garner 10 GOP votes — enough support to defeat a filibuster — after the House made its position clear, Braun said, “I wouldn’t want to bet on that right now.”

One of the Senate’s most vocal opponents of more aid to Ukraine said dropping that provision was essential.

“The only thing that I think will pass the House in the Senate is a clean CR without Ukraine funding on it,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). “And if [Senate Democrats] don’t do that, they’re shutting the government down because they believe more strongly in funding Ukraine’s government than they believe in funding our own government.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer lambasted efforts in the House, calling a potential shutdown “entirely Republican manufactured.

“I hope the speaker snaps out of the vise grip he’s put himself in, and stops succumbing to the thirty or so extremists who are running the show in the House,” Schumer said. “Mr. Speaker, time has almost run out.”

The Senate will take another procedural vote at 1 p.m. Saturday to advance its stopgap bill to avert a government shutdown. But other parliamentary hurdles remain, likely pushing a vote on final passage of the bill — which would then still have to win approval in the House — potentially to Monday.

House Democratic Whip Katherine M. Clark said plainly that the House needs to take up the Senate CR. “Take the deal that they already negotiated and prevent the pain of a shutdown.”

House Republicans are privately admitting that a government shutdown could last for at least two weeks, with pressure to reopen building before the military is set to receive their next paycheck in the middle of October, according to several Republicans familiar with discussions.

A majority of House Republicans do not want the government to shut down, but have found it difficult to find any compromise that funds the government for a short period. The plan for House Republicans is to continue passing full-year appropriation bills during the next two weeks, which do nothing to fund the government in the short-term. They have passed four out of 12 of those bills so far

“The House has got to realize something — we don’t get to make the decision as Republicans over here,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said. “We’ve got to have something that can get Democrats on board as well. Democrats aren’t going to simply take whatever the House sends us unless it’s a program that the Democrats think is a reasonable compromise. So let’s see if we can cut to the chase, find something that is reasonable, and at least keep government open while we do the 12 appropriation bills.”

Had House Republicans’ stopgap bill been adopted, it would have cut hundreds of billions of dollars from programs important to millions of Americans, including nutritional aid for poor pregnant mothers, housing subsidies for low-income families, and medical research and environmental protection, among many other federal operations. Although the House GOP plan would spare the military, veterans’ benefits and immigration enforcement from cuts, many other domestic programs would face immediate 30 percent budget reductions, and some education subsidies and energy aid for poor families would be axed by more than half.

The spending levels for the next fiscal year, which begins Sunday, were supposed to have been set in a deal that McCarthy and President Biden agreed to in exchange for House support to suspend the debt ceiling. But as McCarthy has struggled to win over a handful of conservative lawmakers, he instructed House Republicans to draft bigger and bigger spending cuts that make all full-year funding bills dead on arrival in the Senate. Initially, House Republican leaders tried to advance more-modest across-the-board cuts that did not exempt the Defense or Veterans Affairs Departments from spending reductions.

McCarthy has had to navigate a similar dynamic with short-term spending bills, offering the latest proposal with its 30 percent cuts across most government departments even though leaders knew the bill would fail Friday.

During an event swearing in the new joint chiefs chairman, Biden derided House Republicans over the shutdown.

“You can’t be playing politics while our troops stand in the breach,” he said. It’s an absolute dereliction of duty; as leaders, we must never lose sight of the direct impacts of the decisions we make and the impact they have on the lives and families around the world.”

With a shutdown on the horizon, McCarthy and his conference have tried blaming the government shutdown on Biden’s immigration policies, even though the White House has asked Congress for more funding to address the border and fentanyl crisis.

And McCarthy has said he wouldn’t bring the Senate’s proposal to the House floor unless border security provisions are attached. The Senate continuing resolution in its current form would almost certainly pass in the House, carried by the support of Democrats. But some hard-right lawmakers have threatened that if McCarthy uses Democratic votes to pass any legislation that some Republicans oppose — as he did during the debt ceiling fight in June — they would begin the process of removing him from the speaker’s chair.

A small group of hard-right Republicans has vocally opposed a stopgap bill, instead demanding the House move forward on the 12 appropriation bills needed to fund fiscal 2024. The House has passed four of those 12 bills, but a fifth failed to move forward late Thursday night because more than 25 Republicans voted against the measure because of policy concerns.

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), who voted against the stopgap bill Friday, called his colleagues who oppose these conservative bills “liberals in the Republican conference.” Many vulnerable incumbents who helped clinch the GOP majority feel differently, acknowledging at several points in recent weeks that all the bills they are sending to the Senate will not pass.

Leigh Ann Caldwell and Paul Kane contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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