The odds of a government shutdown are growing as House GOP leaders reject the Senate spending bill

The federal government shutdown is likely to escalate as House Republicans indicated Wednesday that they would not consider a bipartisan Senate plan to fund the government past a weekend deadline.

The Senate is currently working on a bill to continue funding the government through mid-November, which would provide some of the billions of dollars President Biden is requesting for U.S. aid to Ukraine and natural disaster relief. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) quickly rejected that idea, saying in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that he would not put the Senate bill on the floor in its current form.

A federal worker’s shutdown survival guide

In other private meetings this week, McCarthy floated the idea of ​​taking the Senate’s short-lived bill, removing provisions the House GOP opposes, and then tackling the House-passed border security bill and sending it back to the Senate. Separately, McCarthy and his allies are continuing to encourage their colleagues to pass a 30-day short-term spending bill Friday that includes border security as a signal of defiance of the Senate. What that bill would include was up in the air Wednesday afternoon.

Different tactics almost guarantee a government shutdown unless lawmakers can force some other long-term solution. The two chambers, working in opposition to each other, won’t have enough time to pass a stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, before the current funding rules expire at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.

The logjam between the chambers has upset even Republicans in the Senate, who have struggled with government shutdowns in previous years — and faced political consequences.

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“If we shut down the government, for those who are concerned about the border and want to improve it, the Border Patrol and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] “Agents must continue to work for nothing,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. “The Senate and the House are completely different. You know, I think in the Senate, we’re going to continue to try to reach an agreement, get it done on a bipartisan basis, and keep the government open.”

“Seventy-seven percent of the American people don’t think we should shut down the government,” said GOP caucus vice chairman Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.) added, referring to the results of the August referendum. “I’m in that 77 percent.”

McCarthy and President Biden struck a deal in June that would avoid these rounds of back-and-forth. During those negotiations, Republicans agreed to freeze the debt ceiling — the amount the federal government can borrow for previously authorized spending — in exchange for limiting nonsecurity spending to about $1.6 trillion in 2024. That would be a reduction from current spending levels that account for inflation.

But far-right members of McCarthy’s caucus have demanded lower spending levels and threatened to oust McCarthy as speaker if he doesn’t comply. Instead of trying to pass a short-term government funding bill with Democratic votes, McCarthy scrapped the deal he made in May and tried to get more concessions.

In comments in San Francisco, Biden told reporters he didn’t think a shutdown was certain: “I don’t think anything in politics is inevitable.”

“If we have a government shutdown, many important jobs and science and health could be affected, from cancer research to food safety,” the president said. “So the American people need our Republican friends in the House of Representatives to do their job: keep the government funded.”

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Back in Washington, Democrats sounded the same message.

“Speaker McCarthy: The Only Way — The Only Way — A Shutdown Is Bipartisan,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DNY) said in a speech on stage Wednesday. “And by continuing to do what the hard right wants, you’re aiming for a shutdown. They want it, you know, and you can stop it. Act in a bipartisan way like we have in the Senate, and you can avoid harming millions of Americans.

Washington Post Senior Political Correspondent Rhonda Colvin explains what a government shutdown is and how the timing could affect the economy. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The House was scheduled to spend Wednesday debating legislation that would cover parts of the government through fiscal year 2024. The GOP-led chamber passed a procedural vote Tuesday night — similar votes failed earlier this week and last week when McCarthy fended off a rebellion from his right.

The Senate moved on to debate its own short-term spending bill, which easily cleared its own procedural hurdle Tuesday evening. But it also drew GOP objections because Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) opposes sending more aid to Ukraine, threatening to slow its path.

“I’m sure cooler heads will prevail, but at this point, we should be prepared for a short-term shutdown,” Sen said. Mike Rounds (RS.D.) said Tuesday. A short-term spending bill has yet to be sorted out in the House. But both chambers are unable to complete the work before the funding deadline. Unless government spending is extended, the shutdown could close some federal agencies, deprive military service members and government employees of their paychecks, block critical anti-poverty programs and delay aid for natural disaster victims.

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US braces for costly government shutdown

The Senate’s short-term bill, supported by 28 Republicans and all Democrats present, would extend federal government funding at current levels through Nov. 17 and include $6.2 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine and $6 billion for domestic disaster relief.

If the House considers legislation for a temporary extension, it would cut spending by 8 percent for all federal agencies except the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. It would bundle those cuts with a border security bill.

“We have a problem, a national security problem and an economic problem, especially at the border. That’s our leverage point,” Rep. Ralph Norman (RS.C.), an influential member of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Wednesday morning.

McConnell has refused to throw his support behind the idea of ​​Senate funding measures with Ukraine aid, trying to ease their passage in the House, where enough Republicans oppose more Ukraine aid.

“I’m comfortable with the way we put the Senate bill together,” McConnell said in a rare bipartisan appearance. “Basically it’s just trying to do a continuation until November 17th. I think the package that’s been crafted is the result of a lot of discussion. I think it makes sense for the Senate. I think it makes sense for the country, and that’s what I want to support.”

Matt Viser contributed to this report.

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