Congressional Leaders Express Desire to Prevent Shutdown, Yet House and Senate Drift Further Apart

by Sophia Chen
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Government Shutdown

The U.S. Congress is manifestly split over divergent strategies aimed at averting a government shutdown. The Senate is aggressively pursuing a bipartisan approach to provide interim funding for the government. Meanwhile, the House is engrossed in an ambitious but impractical initiative that appears unlikely to meet the looming Saturday deadline.

As the possibility of a federal shutdown looms ever closer, the absence of a viable resolution escalates the level of urgency. A government closure would result in the furloughing of millions of federal workers, halt military pay, disrupt air transportation, and curtail essential safety net services. Such an event would be politically damaging to lawmakers, whose primary responsibility is to ensure government financing.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden reached a budget agreement with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that was later enacted. The President believes that it is now incumbent upon House Republicans to fulfill their end of the deal.

Government Shutdown: Additional Context

Federal employees who have endured previous shutdowns are bracing for another potentially challenging period. The question of what such a closure would mean, who would be impacted, and what would follow remains unanswered. McCarthy finds himself entangled in efforts to pass a short-term spending bill as alternative strategies emerge.

“The responsibility lies with them,” stated White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, referring to the House Republicans’ duty to resolve the situation.

On Tuesday evening, the Senate took a decisive step to break the impasse, advancing a stopgap measure—known as a Continuing Resolution (CR)—that would sustain government operations until November 17. The measure maintains current funding levels and allocates an additional $6 billion for Ukraine and $6 billion for U.S. disaster relief, among other items. Although slated for Senate approval later this week, the measure faces an uphill battle in the House.

Speaker McCarthy, under pressure from a hard-right faction that opposes his agreement with President Biden, showed no interest in the Senate’s bipartisan proposal, particularly the added funding for Ukraine. Instead, he is reintroducing a House Republican version of a temporary funding bill that proposes an 8% cut in federal spending for several agencies, alongside stringent border security provisions.

While McCarthy aims to provoke Biden into negotiations concerning the border package, his leverage is limited, and the White House has played down the possibility of engaging in talks. McCarthy also faces the considerable challenge of pushing through bills required to finance various government departments, including Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture, and State and Foreign Operations. After days of setbacks, it remains uncertain whether he can secure sufficient votes from his hard-right faction to pass these key bills.

The right-wing holdouts, led by figures such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, are pushing for additional cuts and opposing funds earmarked for Ukraine. Greene stated her vote against advancing the package was to save everyone’s time since the bills are poised for failure.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer commented that the Senate’s bill represents a triumph of bipartisanship over extremism, warning that a government shutdown would have severe repercussions for the country.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed support for the bipartisan Senate proposal, stating plainly, “Government shutdowns are bad news.”

Meanwhile, the far-right members of the House, encouraged by former President Donald Trump, are advocating for a stand-off, thereby exacerbating tensions. Trump has urged them to either sustain the fight or risk a government shutdown.

This week also witnesses House Republicans initiating the first impeachment inquiry hearing against Biden, probing the business activities of his son, Hunter Biden. The timing coincides with discussions among former Trump officials about plans to reduce the federal workforce should Trump regain the presidency.

McCarthy, who communicated with McConnell recently, dismissed Trump’s influence as a mere negotiation strategy, even as his far-right colleagues continue to undermine his efforts. Due to the narrow majority in the House, this faction’s influence is disproportionate, affecting McCarthy’s ability to pass any bill without Democratic support.

At stake is not just the current government funding but also broader issues, such as Ukraine’s fight against Russia and the U.S.’s escalating national debt. Despite these complexities, the hardline Republicans are pressing for more, including revoking the funding for Ukraine.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a leading member of the hard-right faction, argued that although a shutdown is not the optimal outcome, it is preferable to the financial collapse that he believes the current path would lead to.

The extensive legislative tasks ahead involve the passage of 12 annual bills needed to fund various government departments—a process that typically stretches over weeks or even months. Even if the House manages to pass some of these bills this week, they would still have to be reconciled with similar Senate legislation, prolonging the deadlock.

Contributors to This Report

Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick, Farnoush Amiri, and Josh Boak of Big Big News contributed to this analysis.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Government Shutdown

What are the primary strategies being considered by Congress to avoid a government shutdown?

The Senate is aggressively pursuing a bipartisan Continuing Resolution to provide interim funding for the government until November 17. On the other hand, the House, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, is working on an alternative proposal that seeks to cut federal spending by 8% for many agencies and includes a hardline border security measure.

Why is a government shutdown considered politically damaging for lawmakers?

A government shutdown would result in significant disruptions, including furloughing millions of federal workers, halting military pay, and affecting air travel. These outcomes would be politically damaging to lawmakers, whose principal duty is to ensure the government is funded.

What is President Joe Biden’s position on the issue?

Earlier in the year, President Joe Biden reached a budget agreement with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Biden believes it is now the responsibility of House Republicans to follow through on that agreement to prevent a shutdown.

What obstacles is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy facing from within his party?

Kevin McCarthy is facing opposition from a hard-right faction within his own party that rejects the bipartisan deal he made with President Biden. This group is demanding steep spending cuts and has its own set of priorities that diverge from the Senate’s bipartisan effort.

Who are some of the key figures in the hard-right faction of the House Republicans?

Key figures in the hard-right faction include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Matt Gaetz. They are pushing for additional spending cuts and have expressed opposition to funds earmarked for Ukraine.

What additional provisions are included in the Senate’s Continuing Resolution?

The Senate’s Continuing Resolution aims to maintain current funding levels and includes an additional $6 billion for Ukraine and $6 billion for U.S. disaster relief, among other provisions.

How does former President Donald Trump factor into the current situation?

Donald Trump has been encouraging the hard-right members of the House to stand firm in their opposition, thereby exacerbating the already tense situation. He has suggested that they either sustain the fight against the proposed measures or allow the government to shut down.

What are the broader issues at stake beyond immediate government funding?

Beyond immediate government funding, broader issues like Ukraine’s fight against Russia and the United States’ escalating national debt are also under consideration. The hardline Republicans are pressing for more, including revoking the funding for Ukraine.

What are the next steps in the legislative process to prevent a shutdown?

Both the House and Senate will need to pass their respective funding bills. If passed, these bills would then need to be reconciled in a conference committee before being sent to the President for his signature. Given the divergence in strategies between the two chambers, this remains a complex and time-sensitive task.

More about Government Shutdown

  • Government Shutdown Explained
  • Understanding Bipartisanship in Congress
  • The Role of Continuing Resolutions in Federal Budgeting
  • President Biden’s Budget Proposals
  • The Influence of Hard-Right Republicans in the House
  • Donald Trump’s Role in Current Politics
  • U.S. National Debt and Its Implications
  • Ukraine Crisis and U.S. Foreign Policy
  • The Legislative Process in the U.S. Congress
  • Political Impact of Government Shutdowns on Lawmakers

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