Efforts to pass a stopgap funding measure before Saturday night’s deadline were sputtering in both chambers Friday, with lawmakers openly predicting a partial government shutdown was inevitable. The only question appeared to be how long the funding lapse would last.
Border security talks in the Senate stalled Friday ahead of a key procedural vote Saturday, casting doubt on whether there would be the required 60 votes to end debate on a seven-week stopgap bill.
Meanwhile, House Republicans huddled to discuss remaining options after their last shot at a 31-day continuing resolution chock full of spending cuts and restrictive border policies fell flat on the floor earlier Friday.
None of the options — taking up a Senate bill that hasn’t even passed yet, or a “clean” CR extending current funding levels for a week or two, appeared to be gaining much steam, at least yet.
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., one of the 21 GOP “no” votes earlier in the day on the conservative CR option, said Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., floated a 14-day option that won’t get his vote.
“We have one duty: Let’s pass a budget. All 50 states do a budget. We go down this road every time. They say ‘Trust us, trust us, trust us. We’ll do better next time.’ We’re not doing any better the next time,” Burchett said. He allowed that any shutdown was likely to be “a short one,” however, and didn’t seem to rule out a bipartisan bill to reopen the government going to the floor at some point.
Aggressive appropriations schedule
Meanwhile, House Republican leaders at the closed-door conference meeting laid out an aggressive schedule for October consideration of seven of the chamber’s remaining eight appropriations bills.
On its face, passing more full-year fiscal 2024 appropriations bills through the House won’t help avert a partial government shutdown, considering the Senate hasn’t passed any of its bills and the two chambers are far from any kind of framework deal.
But the idea is to show GOP lawmakers opposed to any stopgap funding measure that leaders are serious about the “regular order” process of passing individual bills, even if a little late.
To start with, McCarthy told members that the House would consider the Energy-Water and Legislative Branch appropriations bills next week. That’s a slight shift from previous indications that the Interior-Environment bill along with Energy-Water would be on next week’s docket. But the Legislative Branch bill might be an easier lift than Interior-Environment, which is facing another $3.9 billion in cuts to appease GOP holdouts — and might give members an opportunity to voice their opposition to a boost in member pay while the shutdown is in effect.
The following week, leadership plans to bring the Transportation-HUD and Interior measures to the floor. Financial Services would follow the week of Oct. 16.
The Commerce-Justice-Science bill would be considered the week of Oct. 23, with Labor-HHS-Education the week of Oct. 30, per McCarthy’s plan.
Those are the two fiscal 2024 bills that haven’t yet gone before the full Appropriations Committee, and could prove the most difficult to pass. Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Chairman Robert B. Aderholt is charged with cutting an additional $23 billion from his bill, on top of steep cuts that were already there, for a combined 30 percent reduction below this year.
Aderholt, R-Ala., said some programs would have to be “eviscerated” with cuts that deep.
Missing from the schedule is the Agriculture appropriations bill, which the House defeated in a 191-237 vote Thursday night. The “no” votes included 27 Republicans who opposed an abortion provision in the bill or felt that the cuts were too steep.
Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., said earlier Friday that he did not know what the path forward for his bill would be. “I don’t know, you’ve got to ask the 27 Republicans who voted against it, not me,” he said. “I voted for it.”
The House on Thursday did pass the Defense, Homeland Security and State-Foreign Operations bills, and the Military Construction-VA measure in late July.
And Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chairman of the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, called the schedule for October that GOP leaders laid out “aspirational.”
The House will remain in session on Saturday and members are staying close, in case there’s something to actually vote on. But it was clear that, despite leadership’s push on full-year spending bills, there was no consensus on how to keep agencies operating in the short-term.
“The problem is the holdouts don’t offer any other options,” Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, R-Texas, said. “The holdouts say, ‘Well, let’s have a shutdown and we’ll work through the appropriations process.’ As if all of a sudden the messy democracy that makes the appropriations process difficult in the first place is somehow going to resolve itself.”
At the same time, it wasn’t clear their Senate counterparts would have any better luck when that chamber votes on cloture at 1 p.m. Saturday. After senators spent the previous couple of days trying to hammer out a deal to add up to $6 billion in border security measures and potentially some other policy restrictions, those talks appeared to crater on Friday.
The problem for many Republicans was that nothing on the table was tough enough, while for many Democrats, it was too much.
Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, who already opposes $6 billion for Ukraine in the Senate bill, said the border and immigration amendment under discussion was unlikely to have much meaningful impact.
“My very strong suspicion here is that the immigration amendment, the net effect it has is very little improvement on border security,” Vance said. “And it puts Republicans in a very tough negotiating position. I don’t think — I don’t know why we’re negotiating against ourselves here, instead of actually strengthening House Republicans’ position.”
Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson on Friday afternoon sought unanimous consent to take up a stopgap measure that would extend current funding for two weeks, through Oct. 14.
“It’s something we all ought to agree on,” Johnson said on the floor. “We prevent a shutdown. We prevent pain to real people.”
But Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., objected to his request, saying a two-week extension wouldn’t provide enough time to complete fiscal 2024 appropriations.
She said Johnson’s bill also wouldn’t extend expiring authorizations for the Federal Aviation Administration, community health centers and other programs. “We need a CR that gives us the actual time to get through our bipartisan spending bills,” she said.
With no obvious way out of a shutdown at this point, some members are looking to mid-October as the next big inflection point — that’s when the first paychecks for federal workers go out after the funding lapse.
“I’m very concerned about, you know, mid-October. We’re gonna shut this thing down tomorrow night for how long? I don’t know,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. “There’s a lot of people in there that I think would agree to maybe a 14-day CR, we got to get past the next payroll. And if we don’t … the pressure building in this place is going to be pretty intense.”
David Lerman and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.