April 25, 2024

As shutdown nears, Congress considers extending funding to March

Congressional leaders will unveil legislation Sunday to extend federal government funding to March, attempting to dodge a government shutdown with another stopgap spending bill.

Funding for 20 percent of the government — including the Transportation Department, some veterans’ assistance and food and drug safety programs — is set to expire Jan. 20, just after midnight. The rest — including for the Defense and State departments — expires on Feb. 2.

The measure that Congress will consider in the coming week will extend those deadlines to March 1 and March 8, respectively, a person familiar with congressional negotiations said Saturday. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his office planned to release legislative text of the agreement Sunday evening.

The legislation, which the Senate has already taken procedural steps to advance, would fund the government at current spending levels and maintain the staggered funding approach favored by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Johnson and Schumer have agreed on an overall $1.66 trillion spending deal for the 2024 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. But lawmakers won’t have time to enact it before the deadlines, and some House Republicans attempted to scuttle the proposal late last week.

Now lawmakers are up against the clock to pass a stopgap funding bill — called a continuing resolution, or CR — to prevent a partial shutdown just after midnight on Jan. 20.

The Senate on Tuesday will take steps to advance that measure to buy Congress more time to finish a series of full-year spending bills, called appropriations. The upper chamber will have to move with uncommon speed to vote on that and send it to the House for approval before the end of the week.

Even if it arrives in the lower chamber, the bill’s success is far from certain. Johnson fended off pressure all last week from the archconservative House Freedom Caucus to abandon the agreement with Schumer and restart negotiations or threaten a shutdown.

Johnson on Friday rebuffed those calls — “Our top-line agreement remains,” he told reporters — baffling conservatives who thought they’d made progress talking the speaker out of the arrangement.

One member of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), described himself as “much more frustrated” and accused Schumer of manipulating the process to give Johnson no options.

“I think my only lament for the speaker is that he has actually fallen into the trap of being up against a deadline and playing this game on Chuck Schumer’s terms,” Donalds said.

Schumer has offered Johnson support, urging him in remarks to reporters and on the Senate floor not to bow to the roughly 30 hard-line House members who have tried to pull the speaker to the right.

“They want to bully their own conference, bully their own speaker, bully the Congress, and bully the country into accepting their extremist views,” Schumer said on the floor last week.

Freedom Caucus members emerged from votes Friday before leaving town with fresh demands for a CR, most prominently attaching Trump-era immigration restrictions to any funding bill. Some also called for a continuing resolution at current funding levels that runs through the end of the fiscal year, which would trigger mandatory spending cuts on both defense and domestic programs under an agreement last year that suspended the debt ceiling.

But that approach has already failed in the GOP-controlled House. Republicans rejected it in September shortly before ousting Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from the speakership.

“I think everybody has somewhat of a pragmatic approach that we are where we are because of the failures of past leadership, the failure to do what we should have done last year,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the Freedom Caucus chair, said.

After meeting with hard-liners Thursday, Johnson met with members of the Armed Services Committee, who impressed upon him that a one-year CR would be unacceptable because of the ensuing defense cuts.

Johnson also met with several swing-seat Republicans, who encouraged the speaker to stick with his deal with Schumer to avoid a government shutdown they believe will only hurt the party politically.

During that meeting, the lawmakers were asked if they would vote against the Freedom Caucus’s preferred proposal — a year-long CR with domestic and defense budget cuts — according to a person familiar with the meeting’s details, who also spoke anonymously. All 18 of the vulnerable lawmakers raised their hands.

Those members also reiterated to Johnson that they will defend him if he abided by the agreement with Schumer; some hard-liners have begun discussing ousting Johnson from the speakership through a process called a “motion to vacate the chair” if he sticks to the spending deal.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said Friday that she would trigger the process to remove Johnson if the speaker brings any bill to the floor that ties immigration restrictions to Ukraine funding. The Freedom Caucus and other hard-liners such as Greene oppose sending any more U.S. aid to Ukraine.

A bipartisan Senate group has been negotiating separate legislation that pairs new funding for the war-torn country with stricter U.S.-Mexico border security and with aid for Israel and some domestic natural disasters.

“That is a failing, losing strategy and I will never support it. I’ll fight it as much as possible,” Greene said. “There’s others that agree with me.”

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