Congress barrels toward another shutdown crisis

Lawmakers are scrambling to avoid a government shutdown as they barrel toward another funding deadline without a clear path forward.

GOP leadership is remaining tightlipped about their plan, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats livid over GOP's COVID-19 attacks on Biden US could default within weeks absent action on debt limit: analysis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE (R-Wis.) declining to outline their next steps before a Jan. 19 deadline.

They are expected to offer a short-term stopgap measure given the fast-approaching deadline and a failure to lockdown a deal on raising spending ceilings for defense and nondefense.

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“I think if we are able to reach an agreement, it will still take a little bit of time to prepare the omnibus,” McConnell told reporters this week during a leadership press conference, in a sign that a stopgap could be coming.

“But I'm not ready to make an announcement yet about the way forward,” he said.

If the GOP does move to a short-term measure, Democrats are tightlipped about whether they’ll go along with the plan.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of holding the government “hostage” over demands to protect immigrants known as “Dreamers” who fear the end of an Obama-era program could risk their deportation beginning in March.

Democrats believe they have leverage to quickly get a deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program because Republicans need their help to keep the government open.

But GOP leadership appears skeptical that Democrats would ultimately force a shutdown over the issue before a midterm election in which 10 senators are up for reelection in states won by President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania ​​Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors Iran thinks it has the upper hand in Vienna — here's why it doesn't MORE.

“It’s amazing that we’re five days from the [continuing resolution] expiring and I can’t tell you what would be in a [continuing resolution], or whether or not we’re going to have caps," Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOvernight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine Senate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on MORE (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday.

He added that he “can’t tell you what Democrats will or will not do because I do not know the substance.”

Lawmakers face an abbreviated work schedule because of next week’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but have a laundry list of issues confronting them. A controversial surveillance program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the National Flood Insurance Program are all scheduled to soon expire.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level Progressive groups urge Schumer to prevent further cuts to T plan MORE (D-N.Y.) reiterated Wednesday that he wants an agreement by the next week’s deadline that folds in immigration, health care and disaster money.

But he’s refused to say if he will whip Senate Democrats against a stopgap if an immigration deal is not reached.

House Democrats refused to put up the votes for the Dec. 22 stopgap, but Ryan was able to wrangle together enough of his caucus to pass it without their help. Seventeen Senate Democrats also supported the last government funding bill.

Progressive lawmakers and outside group are putting new pressure on the party to flex its muscle and block another spending bill that falls short of their demands.

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinFour questions that deserve answers at the Guantanamo oversight hearing Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal Conservatives target Biden pick for New York district court MORE (D-Ill.) declined to speculate about if more of his caucus would oppose the next funding deal without a fleshed out DACA agreement after Trump and lawmakers agreed to the parameters of a deal at the White House.

Republicans are also weighing adding disaster relief funding and a five-year extension of CHIP into the bill, which could make it harder for Democrats to vote against a stopgap that includes some of their priorities.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah) said he is urging GOP leadership to attach a long-term CHIP reauthorization to the continuing resolution.

“I think we’ll get CHIP done,” he said, while warning that lawmakers are “playing a lot of games.”

House GOP leadership will need to navigate pushback from defense and fiscal hawks, who have bristled over keeping the government running on short-term measures. The next short-term spending bill would be the fourth passed by Congress in a row.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsJan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth Holding defiant Trump witnesses to account, Jan. 6 committee carries out Congress's constitutional role Prosecutors say North Carolina woman deserves prison for bringing 14-year-old to Capitol riot MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, declined to say on Wednesday how his members would vote but noted that many are worried.

“We’re sitting on the edge of … our fourth [continuing resolution] and I think at this point it is troubling that we have not executed a more comprehensive plan,” he said.

Meadows, who predicted the next stopgap could stretch into March, hopes leadership will outline their plan for government funding during a conference meeting scheduled for Thursday but “the process of having four people ... agree what’s best for America has not produced good results.”

House GOP leaders struggled for days leading up to the Dec. 22 deadline to find a path that could secure 218 votes. They planned to pass a full year of defense spending with a short-term fix for the rest of the government, but scrapped that plan amid pushback.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default MORE (R-Texas) initially indicated this week that disaster funding would be included in next week’s stopgap but hedged on Wednesday, noting that it was up to the House, which will need to move first on the spending bill.

The House passed an $81 billion bill last month to help communities impacted by a recent spate of hurricanes and wildfires. House GOP leadership had to separate that legislation from the spending bill because of pushback from fiscal hawks, and senators are looking at making changes to the bill.

Asked if he was concerned that the House GOP leadership would have a similar “drama” with next week’s bill, Cornyn quipped: “Is there any other way?"

Mike Lillis contributed to this story.