Is Congress Stumbling Into a Shutdown?

Is Congress Stumbling Into a Shutdown?

Lawmakers left town late Thursday for an extended weekend, following a brief but chaotic workweek during which the odds of a government shutdown seemed to increase by the hour.

Riven by factional disputes, both the House and Senate closed up shop with loads of unfinished business on their plates, leaving just two weeks to figure out how to fund the government in the 2024 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, while making sure the doors stay open in the meantime if they can’t agree on a full-year budget.

“The government is barreling toward a shutdown,” Politico’s Burgess Everett and Sarah Ferris wrote Friday. “The Capitol is in crisis. And though Democrats control much of the government, Republican divisions are driving the chaos.”

CNN’s Manu Raju reports that numerous lawmakers think there will be a shutdown this fall. “Oh yeah, definitely,” Rep. Ralph Norman, a member of the Freedom Caucus, told Raju. “There will be a shutdown.”

Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson agreed, saying a shutdown is looking more and more likely. “It seems like you always get some new people in that have got to touch the stove, which is kind of what is happening here,” Simpson told Punchbowl News, referring to Republican hardliners. “There are people who say the government could shut down and no one would notice. Really?”

Government spending remains the central point of contention, along with a handful of cultural issues like abortion and gender-affirming healthcare. While hardline conservatives in the House want to spend less in 2024 than the topline figures defined earlier this year in a budget agreement with the White House, Senate spending bills include billions more for both defense and non-defense programs. And the White House is asking for additional funds to cover the cost of natural disasters and aid to Ukraine.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from North Carolina who was on the budget negotiating team this past spring, said it will not be easy to reach an agreement with the upper chamber. “The Senate will at every turn spend more when left to their own devices. We have to check them,” he told CNN. “At this point, if they don’t want to adhere to the spending numbers, we are going to have a hell of a nasty fall.”

Additional aid for Ukraine appears to be a growing problem, as even moderate Republicans begin to question the wisdom of providing more arms for the country. “It’s not just the Freedom Caucus; I think there’s a lot of people that are concerned with funding,” Rep. Lisa McClain, a Republican from Michigan who sits on the Armed Services Committee, told The Hill. The Senate is expected to include billions of dollars in additional aid for Ukraine in any short-term funding bill that it passes in the next two weeks, but that could be a deal breaker for House Republicans.

The Senate was supposed to be the better-behaved legislative branch when it comes to passing budget measures in an orderly fashion, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer saying earlier this week that the Senate provides “the gold standard for good governance.” But on Thursday, the Senate’s first appropriations package, covering military construction and the departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, was derailed as conservatives demanded changes in what has been seen as a relatively non-controversial bill.

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson called for the bill to be broken up into three separate ones, which would delay the legislation significantly. The request frustrated Senate leaders, including Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine who serves as the vice chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee. She scolded conservatives for raising the risk of a shutdown.

Schumer, meanwhile, called on conservatives to stop behaving like their House allies. “Republican leaders have to reject this MAGA Republicanism for the good of the country and for the good of their party,” he said.

House Democrats were frustrated, as well. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Republicans need to quickly figure out how to pass a short-term continuing resolution, or CR, to fund the government. “I don’t know how long these folks are going to drag their feet,” she said. “We gotta start to move ahead. You either have a CR or you shut the government down.”

The bottom line: Lawmakers could easily avoid a shutdown by passing a short-term funding bill that kicks the can down the road for a few weeks or months. But a number of hardline Republicans are making demands that are sharply limiting the possibility of cooperation between the parties and legislative chambers. We will find out in the next two weeks just how far those conservatives are willing to push their agenda.