Congress barrels toward shutdown: 4 scenarios

Congress is barreling toward a shutdown deadline with no deal to avert a funding lapse as negotiations hit a fever pitch on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers on both sides are hoping to hash out a compromise to meet the March 1 deadline, but there are growing concerns it will be missed and that the nation will contend with a partial government shutdown starting Saturday.

Here are a few ways the fight could play out in the days ahead.

Funding bills pass 

Lawmakers on both sides have been hopeful of passing a “minibus” by Friday that would include four full-year funding bills.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters Tuesday that negotiators have made “good progress” on the bills, adding that she expects legislative text to be released soon.

“We’ve worked very hard over the recess to try to get agreement on several of the bills, and I’m hopeful that we can get it done,” Collins said. She added text could come as soon as “in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also expressed optimism Tuesday about strides made by negotiators in assembling the four bills, saying appropriators are “getting close.”

“Hopefully that won’t require another short-term [stopgap bill], and hope springs eternal,” McConnell stated.

Under the last stopgap, lawmakers agreed to extend funding for offices including the Food and Drug Administration and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Energy and Agriculture through March 1.

The remaining eight annual funding bills — which would also cover dollars for the Pentagon and the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services — come due next week.

Short-term stopgap

Democratic leaders indicated Tuesday that they may need a stopgap measure to buy time for a bigger bill.

While House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) was cautiously optimistic a shutdown would be avoided, he signaled lawmakers might have to pass a short-term bill for the remaining bills set to expire March 8.

“It may be important to come to an agreement that’s bipartisan and anchored in common sense to extend the pending expiration of the eight additional bills that are scheduled to lapse on March 8, so that good faith, tough negotiations can continue in the absence of a government shutdown,” he said after a White House meeting with President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and McConnell.

If Congress passes another stopgap bill, it will mark the fourth time lawmakers have had to kick the can to buy more time for funding talks since late September, which was their initial deadline to hash out new funding levels for fiscal 2024.

The idea of another stopgap, also known as a continuing resolution (CR), is already prompting some groans from negotiators.

Pressed for his thoughts on another stopgap through late March, Sen. Jerry Moran (Kan.), top Republican on the subcommittee that crafts funding for the Department of Justice, said that lawmakers “shouldn’t have one.”

“I mean, if it’s March 22, it means that nothing will be completed until March 22,” he said. At that point, he continued, “The conversation will begin, ‘We might as well just give up and get a CR for the whole year.’”

Long-term CR 

Members on both sides of the aisle have shot down the idea of a full-year stopgap, which experts warn could mean automatic cuts to funding under a budget caps agreement brokered by Biden and then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last year.

However, the idea saw renewed support from the House Freedom Caucus earlier this month, when the hard-line conservative group pressed Johnson to put forward a yearlong stopgap bill if he can’t win concessions on controversial conservative policy riders.

And it’s also on the mind of some GOP senators as the clock ticks closer to Friday and tensions flare in Washington.

“I think one or two things are going to happen. We’re either going to end up with a bunch of short-term CRs until the fiscal year is over, or there’s going to be ultimately a long-term CR to get us through the fiscal year,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), ranking member on the appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development, told reporters Tuesday.

“If you think over the next week — or two weeks, or a month — that the United States Congress, House and Senate is going to be able to agree on 12 spending bills, you’ve been dipping into your ketamine stash,” he added.


It’s possible a deal will not materialize and that there will be a shutdown, though GOP leaders in both chambers have expressed optimism such a scenario will be avoided.

“We have been working in good faith around the clock every single day for months and weeks, and over the last several days, quite literally around the clock to get that job done. We’re very optimistic,” Johnson said Tuesday.

“We believe that we can get to [an] agreement on these issues and prevent a government shutdown, and that’s our first responsibility,” he said.

But Johnson faces a wall of pressure from his party’s right flank to hold the line for conservative policy wins.

Democrats have needled Republicans over partisan riders they say serve as a key hurdle to progress.

In comments to reporters on Tuesday, McConnell said Johnson was optimistic that the House “will be able to move forward first with the four bills” and sought to tamp down worries of a funding lapse later this week.

“Under no circumstances does anybody want to shut the government down,” McConnell said. “So, I think we can stop that drama right here when it emerges. We’re simply not going to do that.”

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