Shutdown threat grows as lawmakers struggle to reach final deal
The heat is dialing up on Congress to quickly strike an agreement on government funding as lawmakers stare down a critical deadline to avert a shutdown at week’s end.
Lawmakers on both sides have been pressing for a short-term funding bill, often referred to as a continuing resolution (CR), that would keep the government funded at current levels until after the midterm elections and buy time for a larger deal on government spending for fiscal 2023.
But Congress has less than a week to pass the stopgap funding measure or risk its first shutdown in years, and lawmakers still have several hurdles to cross before they can clear the finish line. The government will shut down on Oct. 1 without a new spending measure.
Most expect that Congress will find a way to pass a short-term measure before midnight Friday, as it is not in either party’s interest to be blamed for a shutdown weeks before the midterm elections. But the timeline and disagreements won’t make it easy.
One of the biggest holdups to passage is an ongoing push by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key centrist, and Democratic leadership to use the must-pass bill as a vehicle for changes to the country’s permitting process for energy projects.
Manchin previously struck a deal between top Democrats and President Biden to pass the proposal, which is aimed at speeding up the country’s energy infrastructure projects, in exchange for his support for a sweeping tax, climate and health care plan that narrowly passed Congress in a party-line vote earlier this year.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Thursday that the proposal “will be on the CR” and that senators are “going to vote next week,” but he wouldn’t say whether he thought the overall package would fetch the 60 votes needed for passage.
“I’m working hard to have it pass,” he said on Thursday afternoon amid increased opposition from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Since its release on Wednesday, Manchin’s proposal has drawn mixed reviews in the Senate, where some Democrats have criticized the plan for going too far, as advocates argue it will undercut environmental reviews.
And although the plan garnered some backing from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who offered a dueling proposal earlier this month that Republicans have been lining up to support, it has also drawn considerable pushback from her GOP colleagues who say it doesn’t go far enough.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) cast doubt on the chances of it passing as part of a CR while leaving a Senate GOP lunch where members say the topic was discussed.
“I think between Republicans who are not inclined to help Sen. Manchin out of a bind and the Democrats who are going to vote ‘no,’ it doesn’t stand a chance,” Cornyn told reporters on Thursday afternoon.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters on Thursday that Republicans discussed potential changes to buy more GOP support, but any further tweaks to the right could hurt its chances of picking up necessary Democratic backing in the House.
In recent weeks, more than 70 House Democrats have signed a letter urging party leaders to delink the permitting legislation and the larger funding bill, raising concerns about the plan’s shot of passage in the lower chamber.
And though Manchin has expressed optimism about his plan winning GOP support in the upper chamber eventually, a growing number of House Republicans have already threatened to withhold support for the CR for other reasons that run from wanting to preserve leverage if they retake the majority in the midterms to calls for more money for border security.
The House Freedom Caucus has been helping lead an effort urging their colleagues to reject any stopgap funding bill that comes up this month if it doesn’t extend the funding deadline through at least early January, as GOP hopes swell of taking back control of the lower chamber in the November midterm elections.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also urged his party to vote against the CR earlier this week, while similarly attacking prospects of allowing a Democratic-led Congress another chance to pass its agenda in the fiscal 2023 funding omnibus.
“President Biden is asking for a government funding bill that simply kicks the can to an unaccountable lame-duck Congress that does nothing to actually address the nation’s problems — especially the crisis at our southern border,” McCarthy said on Tuesday.
“If Biden & Democrats don’t use this government funding bill to address the border crisis immediately, I’m voting NO on this bill, and I urge my colleagues to do the same,” he added.
Lawmakers are also still wrestling with a White House request from earlier this month for billions in funding to address Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the country’s COVID-19 and monkeypox response efforts, as well as disaster relief.
The White House wants Congress to approve more than $13.7 billion in funding to provide aid for Ukraine, and while negotiations are ongoing over what assistance should be prioritized, many lawmakers on both sides have come out in support for the cause.
Members speculate Congress will likely approve a bulk of the funding, adding to the more than $50 billion that has been approved by the body in recent months to address the war.
However, Congress has struggled to find common ground on remaining components of the White House’s request for supplemental funding amid GOP opposition.
Some Republicans have pushed back on a White House request for disaster relief for more than $6 billion in funding, but GOP appropriators have also indicated leaders haven’t completely ruled out dollars for the aid.
Pressed on if disaster relief was still in play in spending talks, Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters days ago that “it’s out there and there’s a lot of merit to that.”
However, Republicans have been less open to funding for the nation’s monkeypox and coronavirus response efforts — a sentiment that appears to have only further cemented in light of Biden’s recent comments declaring the pandemic “over.”
“If that’s true, I’m glad. And so why does he want tens of billions of dollars for COVID?” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told reporters this week, while speculating the comments “certainly makes it harder” for more coronavirus funding to be secured.
This story was updated at 7:31 a.m.