Senate pushes for bill to avert federal closure

Test vote on House bill scheduled for Friday

  • By Lisa Mascaro and Stephen Groves The Associated Press
  • Thursday, September 28, 2023 1:30am
  • NewsNational News

WASHINGTON — As the Senate marches ahead with a bipartisan approach to prevent a government shutdown, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is back to square one — asking his hard-right Republicans to do what they have said they would never do: approve their own temporary House measure to keep the government open.

The Republican speaker laid out his strategy Wednesday behind closed doors, urging his unruly Republican majority to work together. He set up a test vote for Friday, one day before Saturday’s shutdown deadline, on a far-right bill. It would slash federal spending by 8 percent from many agencies and toughen border security but has been rejected by President Joe Biden, Democrats and his own right-flank Republicans.

“I want to solve the problem,” McCarthy told reporters afterward at the Capitol.

But pressed on how he would pass a partisan Republican spending plan that even his own right flank doesn’t want, McCarthy had few answers. He rejected outright the Senate’s bipartisan bill, which would fund the government to Nov. 17, adding $6 billion for Ukraine and $6 billion for U.S. disaster relief while talks continue. Instead, he insisted, as he often does, that he would never quit trying.

Congress is at a crossroads days before a disruptive federal shutdown that would halt paychecks for millions of federal workers, leave 2 million active duty military troops and reservists to work without pay, close down many federal offices, affect national parks and leave Americans who rely on the government in ways large and small in the lurch.

As the Senate pushes ahead in bipartisan fashion, McCarthy is demanding that Biden meet to discuss border security measures. But the beleaguered speaker has little leverage left with the White House without the power of his House majority behind him and after he walked away from the debt deal he and Biden reached earlier this year that is now law.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the chamber warning of the right-wing extremes that “seem to exult in shutting down government.”

Schumer later told reporters, “Every path they have pursued to date will inevitably lead to a shutdown.”

The Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was in rare agreement with the Democratic leader, urging his House colleagues to consider the Senate’s stopgap approach that keeps funding at current levels, along with bolstered money for Ukraine and U.S. disaster relief, and move off the shutdown strategy.

“We can take the standard approach and fund the government for six weeks at the current rate of operations or we can shut the government down in exchange for zero meaningful progress on policy,” McConnell said.

McConnell said he, too, would like to do something about the “Democrats’ reckless spending” and boost border security. But “these important discussions cannot progress” if the functions of government “end up being taken hostage.”

When McConnell mentioned a vote against the bill would mean voting against pay for border patrol agents and others, it sparked a response from Biden on social media.

“You know, I agree with Mitch here. Why the House Republicans would want to defund Border Patrol is beyond me,” Biden wrote.

With the Senate expected to spend the rest of this week working to pass its bill over the objections of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and others on the right flank who want to halt aid to Ukraine and push for steeper spending cuts, all action in Congress is crushing toward a last-minute deadline.

The federal government would begin to shut down if funding is not secured by Sunday, the start of the new fiscal year.

A new economic assessment from Goldman Sachs estimated a federal shutdown would subtract 0.2 percent points from fourth-quarter GDP growth each week it continues, according to a report issued Wednesday.

Running out of options, McCarthy revived the border security package he first tried to attach to a temporary government funding bill only to be rebuffed by the hard right conservatives demanding more earlier this month.

But it’s late in the process to be pushing the border security provisions now as McCarthy tries to shift blame to Biden and Democrats for not engaging in an immigration debate about the record flow of migrants at the Southern border with Mexico.

McCarthy still faces holdouts in his own ranks. Trying to cajole his hard-right who have refused to vote for any temporary spending bill — even with the border provisions — McCarthy told reporters, “I don’t understand where somebody would want to stand with President Biden on keeping an open border and not keep government open.”

McCarthy faces a handful of holdouts determined to force the House to debate and pass all 12 individual bills through a grinding process with weeks of debate.

“If that means we close and we shut down, that’s what we’re going do,” said Rep. Andy Ogles, a Tennessee Republican.

Lawmakers are prepared to work into the weekend, but one leading Republican on the appropriations committee, Rep. Steve Womack, said he believed Congress was headed towards a government shutdown.

“Somebody is going to have to flinch or break, or there will have to be something negotiated,” he said.

But the hard-right is making to oust McCarthy if he joins with Democrats and Womack, who is not among the holdouts, explained such a move could be “problematic for the speaker.”

While the White House has said it’s up to McCarthy and the House Republicans to “fix” the problem they have created, Biden’s chief rival in the 2024 election, Donald Trump, is urging the right flank to fight for steep spending cuts. If Republicans don’t get what they want, Trump the former president says, they should “shut it down.”

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