Saturday, April 20, 2024

A Partial Government Shutdown is Days Away. There’s no Agreement on Federal Funding Yet.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, speaks with reporters inside the U.S. Capitol after returning from a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden huddled with top congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday amid a crunch over government funding as well as a familiar stalemate over assistance to two major allies — and no solution immediately in sight.

Lawmakers leaving the meeting, which lasted about an hour, said it was worthwhile, even though it didn’t lead to any agreements that would avoid a partial government shutdown from beginning this weekend or clear a Senate-passed package of aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

“It was a productive meeting on the government shutdown, we are making good progress … (and) the speaker said unequivocally he wants to avoid a government shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said following the meeting, referring to House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican.

Johnson faces tensions and demands in the House. Congressional leaders and the Biden administration have agreed to total spending levels for each of the dozen annual appropriations bills, but far-right conservative lawmakers are pressuring Johnson to include policy riders that Democrats have said are unacceptable.

Schumer said it’s likely Congress will need to approve another continuing resolution, or CR, to avoid a partial government shutdown.

Those stopgap spending bills continue the prior fiscal year’s funding levels and policy until Congress reaches agreement on full-year spending bills.

Johnson, who has remained noncommittal on putting assistance to Ukraine on the House floor for a vote, said House Republicans are still “pursuing and investigating all the various options on that.”

“We will address that in a timely manner,” Johnson said at the White House of the global supplemental package.

“The first priority of the country is our border and making sure it’s secure,” Johnson said, adding that he’s “optimistic” the House can prevent a partial shutdown.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said after returning to the Capitol that the meeting went well.

“Well, mainly we talked about keeping the government open, which I think we all agree on,” McConnell said. “And I think we’re making some real headway on the appropriations process.”

Time is short and the House does not return from recess until Wednesday night.

Congress has until Friday at midnight to either pass the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD spending bills, or to pass a stopgap spending bill for the federal agencies funded within those four bills.

Congress has until March 8 to pass the other eight remaining appropriations bills for the fiscal year that began back on Oct. 1; otherwise those departments and agencies would begin a shutdown.

‘Hope springs eternal’

McConnell said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon he believes Congress could pass the four bills due Friday without using a stopgap spending bill to extend that deadline.

“I think we’re getting close on the first four bills; hopefully that won’t require another short-term CR,” McConnell said. “And hope springs eternal.”

Schumer, speaking at a separate press conference inside the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon, said negotiators on the full-year government spending bills are “greatly narrowing the ground of where the disputes are.”

“A key here is making sure that the government doesn’t shut down, which means extending government funding after the deadlines if we can’t reach agreement,” Schumer said.

A White House statement on the meeting said Biden “emphasized that the only path forward is through bipartisan funding bills that deliver for the American people and are free of any extreme policies.”

“The President also emphasized the urgent need for Congress to continue standing with Ukraine as it defends itself every day against Russia’s brutal invasion,” the White House statement said. “He discussed how Ukraine has lost ground on the battlefield in recent weeks and is being forced to ration ammunition and supplies due to Congressional inaction.”

Global aid stalled

The Senate voted 70-29 in mid-February to approve a $95 billion emergency spending bill that would provide military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The vote came after months on hold as Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and Arizona independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema negotiated a bipartisan bill to address border security and immigration policy at the insistence of GOP leaders.

Republican senators ultimately blocked that compromise agreement from moving forward, saying it didn’t go far enough. Johnson’s opposition to the agreement was one of the factors that toppled the bipartisan compromise.

Johnson has been skeptical about passing the Senate-approved assistance package ever since, saying it should include measures to address border security and U.S. immigration.

Johnson said Tuesday following the White House meeting that he met one-on-one with the president and pushed for the southern border to be addressed.

“They understand the catastrophe at the border is affecting everyone and it is top of mind for all the American people,” he said.

Schumer said the discussion about assistance to Ukraine was “the most intense I’ve ever encountered in my many meetings in the Oval Office,” because of the “urgency of supporting Ukraine and the consequences to the people of America, to America’s strength if we don’t do anything.”

Schumer said that while Johnson said he wants policy changes at the southern border, “we made it clear to him, we can’t tarry for the war could be lost” in Ukraine.

McConnell said during the afternoon press conference that he hopes the House will take up the Senate-approved Ukraine bill and pass it without making change, since if they were to amend the legislation, it would have to go back to the Senate, slowing down the process.

“Not only do we not want to shut the government down, we don’t want the Russians to win in Ukraine,” McConnell said. “And so we have a time problem here. And the best way to move quickly and get the bill to the president would be for the House to take up the Senate bill and pass it.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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