Here we go again: Congress faces looming government shutdown deadline

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(WASHINGTON) — Congress started to return to Washington on Monday facing a familiar predicament: its back against the wall as the clock ticks down to renew funding for several key government agencies before a Friday deadline.

Absent action from both chambers, Congress is staring down a partial government shutdown at the end of the day Friday — its fourth time in as many months.

Funding for several key agencies will run out on Friday night, including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Transportation Department and the Veterans Administration. One week later, on March 8, funding for the remaining eight government agencies will expire if Congress fails to act.

Lawmakers still have time to intervene, and it’s not uncommon to reach a last-minute compromise.

But for the moment, there’s no clear plan for how to pass government funding bills as House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer remain at an impasse over how to proceed, despite ongoing talks between the two.

There was hope the parties would find government-funding clarity over the weekend. However, on Sunday night, with no plan yet it in place to prevent a Friday partial shutdown, congressional leaders instead issued statements sniping at one another.

“While we had hoped to have legislation ready this weekend that would give ample time for members to review the text, it is clear now that House Republicans need more time to sort themselves out,” Schumer wrote in a letter to his colleagues. “With the uncertainty of how the House will pass the appropriations bills and avoid a shutdown this week, I ask all Senators to keep their schedules flexible, so we can work to ensure a pointless and harmful lapse in funding doesn’t occur.”

Within hours of Schumer issuing his letter, Johnson shot back, calling out Schumer for using “counterproductive rhetoric” to get his message across. Johnson said the “the House has worked nonstop” to reach an agreement with the Senate on government funding bills ahead of the March 1 and 8 deadlines.

“This is not a time for petty politics. House Republicans will continue to work in good faith and hope to reach an outcome as soon as possible, even as we continue to insist that our own border security must be addressed immediately,” Johnson said in the statement.

At issue this time around: a House Republican desire to include certain policy provisions in the government funding bills that Democrats find objectionable — such as blocking the Biden administration’s climate-related initiatives and cutting funding for the World Health Organization and other United Nations’ agencies. Johnson was insistent that some of their provisions would make it in to the package after he conceded to an overall cost of the government funding bills that many in his own conference rejected.

But it’s not yet clear how the leaders will navigate through this standoff, and with just days left to act, lawmakers will likely have to pass another short-term funding bill if they hope to prevent a shutdown.

This is the fourth time since October that Congress has stared down a government-funding deadline. Congress has already passed legislation to buy itself more time to negotiate long-term funding bills on three separate occasions since then.

But each passing deadline ups the stakes. Ukraine aid, border security provisions, and Kevin McCarthy’s speakership have all been causalities of previous government-funding snafus.

This most recent government funding deadlock is the latest consequence of heightening political tensions in an election year.

Already, Johnson and Schumer are at loggerheads over a massive Ukraine aid package that the Senate passed earlier this month but that Johnson has said he won’t take up for consideration on the House floor, despite the fact that the legislation likely has the votes to pass the lower chamber.

With both issues now halting progress in Congress, President Joe Biden has called the top congressional leaders from both chambers to the White House on Tuesday.

The meeting is expected to focus both on the looming shutdown and on the funding bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

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