'Chaotic' US Congress hurtles toward new government shutdown deadline
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[February 27, 2024]
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress on Monday showed no sign of
moving forward on spending bills to avoid a partial government shutdown
in just five days, as lawmakers entered a new week of political chaos
over funding and aid to U.S. allies.
The top Democrats and Republicans in Congress on Tuesday are due to
visit the White House to meet with Democratic President Joe Biden, who
has been pushing for months for fresh aid to Ukraine and Israel, as well
as urging lawmakers to avoid a shutdown.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell dismissed the shutdown danger
on Monday as he exited a meeting in Democratic Senate Majority Leader
Chuck Schumer's office, telling reporters: "No, we're not going to shut
the government down."
Schumer told reporters earlier that "Democrats are doing everything we
can to avoid a shutdown."
But the two Senate leaders do not speak for the Republican-controlled
House of Representatives, where a group of conservative hardliners have
repeatedly blocked legislation.
The House is also grasping for a way forward on vital U.S. aid to
Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and plans to hear closed-door testimony from
Biden's son, Hunter Biden, in an impeachment probe that has failed so
far to turn up evidence of wrongdoing by the president.
The Senate, meanwhile, is awaiting articles of impeachment against
Biden's top border official, narrowly approved by House Republicans.
Congress has been characterized by Republican brinkmanship and muddled
priorities over the past year, more so since Republican presidential
frontrunner Donald Trump undermined a bipartisan border deal in the
Senate and now wants aid to U.S. allies extended as loans.
Almost two months have passed since Republican House Speaker Mike
Johnson and Schumer agreed on a $1.59 trillion discretionary spending
level for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1.
"It's becoming more chaotic," said Brian Riedl, senior fellow at the
right-leaning Manhattan Institute. "The longer Congress is
dysfunctional, the further they fall behind on very time-sensitive,
That dysfunction has eclipsed classic partisan bickering between
Republicans and Democrats, with hardliners now forming their own
opposition party within Republican ranks.
Major ratings agencies say the repeated brinkmanship is taking a toll on
the creditworthiness of a nation whose debt has surpassed $34 trillion.
In the latest sign of an ungovernable House Republican majority, some
hardliners are threatening to oust Johnson as speaker if the Christian
conservative allows a vote on the $95 billion foreign aid bill that
passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support.
On another front, the White House has stepped up personal attacks on
Johnson for blocking bills Biden supports.
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The U.S. Capitol Building is seen in Washington, U.S., August 15,
2023. REUTERS/Kevin Wurm/File Photo
As the government funding deadline inches closer, some lawmakers
worry that hardline demands for policy riders that restrict access
to abortion, defund diversity programs and promote gun rights could
cause further delay.
But Representative Mike Simpson, a senior Republican appropriator,
said Congress can steer clear of a shutdown.
"We cannot let unrealistic policy expectations get in the way of
effective governing. We must get these bills across the finish
line," Simpson said in a statement.
Further complicating the path forward, senators are due to be sworn
in as jurors for the trial of U.S. Homeland Security Secretary
Alejandro Mayorkas, who the House impeached along partisan lines on
Feb. 13 on charges that he has failed to enforce immigration law and
made false statements to Congress.
A Senate trial cannot begin until the House delivers the articles of
impeachment, and sources said the two chambers have not yet agreed
on a delivery date.
To avert a shutdown, Schumer may need unanimous consent from
senators, including Republican hardliners, if the chamber is to act
on appropriations before the Friday deadline.
"It's going to be difficult to get it done on time," said Senator
John Boozman, a senior Republican appropriator. "Hopefully, we won't
have a government shutdown. But if we do, just a few days as we're
working in good faith to get it passed, that really wouldn't mean
The absence of time has led to speculation that lawmakers could opt
for a short-term stopgap measure to keep federal agencies open while
McConnell did not respond to questions about a short-term stopgap on
Johnson and other Republicans oppose a short-term stopgap, known as
a continuing resolution or CR. But circumstances may have the last
"If it's an option between a three-day shutdown and a three-day CR,
I'd do the CR," said Representative Don Bacon, who would otherwise
reject another stopgap.
The House Freedom Caucus has instead urged Johnson to pass a
continuing resolution for the remainder of 2024 that would trigger a
1% across-the-board spending cut under a 2023 deal between Biden and
Johnson's predecessor, Kevin McCarthy.
Republican Senator Rick Scott, a staunch conservative, favors the
same approach, but with U.S. aid to Israel included, along with a
full-year defense appropriations bill to protect the Pentagon from
(Reporting by David Morgan; Additional reporting by Katharine
Jackson and Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)
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