Speaker Johnson’s Options to Avoid a Government Shutdown

Speaker Johnson’s Options to Avoid a Government Shutdown

Johnson will huddle with his conference on spending bills.
USA Today Network
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Monday, November 6, 2023

The government will shut down on November 18 if lawmakers don’t reach a bipartisan spending deal. That’s less than two weeks away, with no sign yet of any action toward a solution.

There’s plenty of other stuff happening this week, though: Former president Donald Trump took a combative turn today on the witness stand in his $250 million New York civil fraud trial. Senate Republicans released a proposal for border policy changes that they may push to include in an emergency package of aid to Israel and Ukraine. The Senate Appropriations Committee is set to hold another hearing on that supplemental funding bill on Wednesday. That evening, Republican presidential candidates — at least those not named Trump — are scheduled to face off in Miami for their third primary debate.

Oh, and tomorrow is Election Day, so get out and vote! Here’s what else you should know.

Mike Johnson’s Options to Avoid a Government Shutdown

The November 17 deadline to avoid a government shutdown is now just 12 days away but House Republicans may not take up a stopgap spending bill this week.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, in his new job for less than two weeks, is reportedly set to meet with the House Republican Conference Tuesday and wants to discuss a strategy for the funding deadline with his members over the coming days.

Johnson has suggested a short-term spending bill, called a continuing resolution or CR, that would keep government agencies running until mid-January. He could propose a bill that’s "clean" or one that imposes spending cuts or other conditions — but he has also floated the possibility of a "laddered CR" that would fund different agencies for varying lengths of time, which might provide leverage for lawmakers to pass single-subject annual spending bills or might set the stage for a chaotic series of showdowns and possible partial shutdowns.

Will House Republicans agree to a stopgap? Will they look to set a new deadline in January or April or try to ladder a series of spending extensions? Will they demand steep spending cuts or other concessions that make it harder to reach a deal with the Senate? The list of questions remains long even as the days draw short.

Johnson’s actions as speaker so far suggest that he’s likely to continue to favor a hardline approach that appeals to the most conservative members of his party — and seeks to secure an advantage in negotiations with Democrats. In the end, though, any funding bill will have to get through the Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden, limiting Johnson’s leverage.

Still working on long-term spending bills: As the deadline approaches, Johnson has committed to passing the five remaining annual spending bills as quickly as possible, but Republicans last week were forced to punt on the appropriations package covering the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. "About a dozen House Republicans, including several New Yorkers, have concerns with cuts to Amtrak included in the bill," The Washington Post says, citing two Republican aides.

The House will try to pass that bill again this week along with one covering financial services and general government appropriations. That would leave three final appropriations bills to tackle — likely the three hardest to pass, including the Commerce, Justice, Science bill, which would cut FBI funding; the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education package, which also seeks to slash spending; and Agriculture, which has already failed once before.

The bottom line: Johnson has lots of decisions to make and the deadline is drawing near.

Biden Highlights $16.4 Billion for Northeast Corridor

President Biden announced on Monday plans to spend $16.4 billion on 25 infrastructure projects along the Northeast Corridor, the nation’s most heavily used rail network.

Speaking at an event in his home state of Delaware, Biden — sometimes called "Amtrak Joe" in reference to his heavy use of the train service during his 36 years as a senator — framed the investments as a matter of national pride. "How can you be a leading country in the world and have a second-rate infrastructure?" he asked. "It’s not possible. … This is the USA for God’s sake. We’re better than that and now we’re proving it."

Some of the funds for the projects come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by Biden in 2021. The White House noted that the $66 billion allocated to rail projects in that legislation amounts to the largest investment in rail in the U.S. since the creation of Amtrak in 1971.

Two aging rail tunnels will account for about half of the new spending. The Frederick Douglass Tunnel in Baltimore will receive $4.7 billion as part of the effort to replace the 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, a chokepoint for rail traffic in the Northeast. And the Hudson River Tunnel between New Jersey and New York, which is more than 100 years old, will receive $3.8 billion for rehabilitation and expansion, on top of a $7 billion federal grant announced last summer.

Other projects receiving funding include repairing and expanding Amtrak lines near Penn Station in New York City ($1.6 billion), replacing a bridge over the Susquehanna River ($2.1 billion) and replacing a bridge over the Connecticut River ($827 million).

In a fact sheet, the White House emphasized the job creation associated with the rail infrastructure spending. The Hudson River Tunnel project is expected to generate 72,000 "direct and indirect jobs during construction," the White House said, while the Frederick Douglas Tunnel program is expected to create 30,000 direct and indirect jobs, with specific programs designed to recruit and train workers from the Baltimore area.

Quote of the Day

"Most Americans are not looking for disinflation. They're looking for deflation. They want these prices to be back to where they were before the pandemic."

— Federal Reserve Governor Lisa D. Cook, speaking at Duke University Monday.

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