US Government Nears Shutdown, Crisis Deepening

With just days remaining before a shutdown, several of the holdouts say they will never vote for any stopgap measure to fund the government as they push for Congress to engage in the full-scale debate.
With a government shutdown five days away, Congress is moving into crisis mode as Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces an insurgency from hard-right Republicans eager to slash spending even if it means curtailing federal services for millions of Americans.

There’s no clear path ahead as lawmakers return with tensions high and options limited. The House is expected to vote Tuesday evening on a package of bills to fund parts of the government, but it’s not at all clear that McCarthy has the support needed to move ahead.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is surrounded by reporters looking for updates on plans to fund the government and avert a shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Meanwhile, the Senate, trying to stave off a federal closure, is preparing its own bipartisan plan for a stopgap measure to buy some time and keep offices funded past Saturday’s deadline as work in Congress continues. But plans to tack on additional Ukraine aid have run into trouble as a number of Republicans in both the House and Senate oppose spending more money on the war effort.

Against the mounting chaos, President Joe Biden warned the Republican conservatives off their hardline tactics, saying funding the federal government is “one of the most basic fundamental responsibilities of Congress.”

Biden implored the House Republicans not to renege on the debt deal he struck earlier this year with McCarthy, which set the federal government funding levels and was signed into law after approval by both the House and Senate.

“We made a deal, we shook hands, and said this is what we’re going to do. Now, they’re reneging on the deal,” Biden said late Monday.

“If Republicans in the House don’t start doing their jobs, we should stop electing them.”

A government shutdown would disrupt the U.S. economy and the lives of millions of Americans who work for the government or rely on federal services — from air traffic controllers who would be asked to work without pay to some 7 million people in the Women, Infants and Children program, including half the babies born in the U.S., who could lose access to nutritional benefits, according to the White House.

It comes against the backdrop of the 2024 elections as Donald Trump, the leading Republican to challenge Biden, is egging on the Republicans in Congress to “shut it down” and undo the deal McCarthy made with Biden.

Republicans are also being encouraged by former Trump officials, including those who are preparing to slash government and the federal workforce if the former president retakes the White House in the 2024 election. With five days to go before Saturday’s deadline, the turmoil is unfolding as House Republicans hold their first Biden impeachment inquiry hearing this week probing the business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden.

“Unless you get everything, shut it down!” Trump wrote in all capital letters on social media. “It’s time Republicans learned how to fight!”

McCarthy arrived at the Capitol early Monday after a tumultuous week in which a handful of hard-right Republicans torpedoed his latest plans to advance a usually popular defense funding bill. They brought the chamber to a standstill and leaders sent lawmakers home for the weekend with no endgame in sight.

After the House Rules Committee met Saturday to prepare for this week’s voting, McCarthy was hopeful the latest plan on a package of four bills, to fund Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture, and State and Foreign Operations, would kickstart the process.

“Let’s get this going,” McCarthy said. “Let’s make sure the government stays open while we finish our job passing all the individual bills.”

But at least one top Trump ally, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who is also close to McCarthy, said she would be a “hard no” on the vote to open debate, known as the Rule, because the package of bills continues to provide at least $300 million for the war in Ukraine.

Other hard-right conservatives and allies of Trump may follow her lead.

“Now you have a couple of new people thinking about voting against the Rule,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., referring to the upcoming procedural vote.

Once a holdout himself, Buck told reporters at the Capitol he would be voting for the package, but he’s not sure McCarthy will have enough for passage. “I don’t know if he gets them back on board or not,” Buck said.

While their numbers are just a handful, the hard-right Republican faction holds oversized sway because the House majority is narrow and McCarthy needs almost every vote from his side for partisan bills without Democratic support.