The Government Is In Danger Of Shutting Down This Week. Yes, Again.

For the fourth time in five months, lawmakers are staring down the barrel of another possible shutdown of the federal government, this time a partial shuttering that would start Saturday.

Coming off a two-week break, senators landed back in Washington on Monday, and House lawmakers are set to arrive Wednesday evening, with just two days to spare before the deadline to keep open departments including Agriculture, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

After a meeting Tuesday between President Joe Biden and the top Democratic and Republican leaders, there were signs of progress, though no concrete breakthroughs were publicly announced.

“We’re making good progress, and we’re hopeful we can get this done really quickly,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters at the White House.

Schumer’s House counterpart, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), said he was “very optimistic” a deal could be reached to keep open the agencies that are at risk of being shut down.

“We believe that we can get to agreement on these issues and prevent a government shutdown. And that’s our first responsibility,” Johnson said.

Though Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are generally on board with avoiding a partial government shutdown, House Republicans will again be the wild card as the hard-liners among them are itching for a fight over border policy and the still-green Johnson, who has been speaker only since October, may face a choice between placating them and saving his job.

The House Freedom Caucus, a collection of the Republican Party’s most conservative and libertarian members in the House, issued a list of disputed spending items in the annual funding bills that it said Republicans should stand up for before voting to again keep the government open.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) has been among the most vocal in threatening a shutdown to win concessions from Democrats. He accused party leaders of not fighting hard enough in a series of social media posts Monday.

“Bottom line: Republicans are putting out the same tired excuses that we’ve been telling our voters for decades. We can’t let the swamp dictate the terms. If we want to achieve something different, we have to do something different. Pick a fight and win it,” he said.

Republicans may feel a bit under pressure on border security after a bipartisan bill resulting from a lengthy negotiation was scuttled in the Senate by Republicans seemingly acting on presidential candidate Donald Trump’s request.

The bill’s failure took some of the political heat off Democrats by allowing them to say Republicans would rather have the issue for this fall’s campaign instead of actually doing anything about it. Tom Suozzi, a former House member who won his seat back in a special election earlier this month, used that line to blunt immigration-related attacks in his campaign.

Faced with a similar situation in January, Johnson chose to allow a temporary spending bill on the House floor under a procedure requiring two-thirds approval to pass. His gamble was successful, with House Democrats providing the bulk of the votes. But the move angered hardliners in Johnson’s party, who would not welcome a rerun of the strategy.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. A new stopgap bill, if enacted, would be the fourth since September and would mean that one-tenth of all the laws passed by the current Congress since it started in January 2023 would be simply to keep the government’s lights on. And five months of the fiscal 2024 budget year will be over at the end of February, meaning any annual spending cuts or increases enacted in a deal would be magnified as agencies would have to apply them over the remaining time through Sept. 1.

A shutdown, though, would throw more than 100,000 government employees out of work and shutter activities of the agencies affected that don’t directly protect life, safety and national security.

Though shutdowns have become more common since 2011, they have been rare during election years as politicians have been wary of being blamed for Washington’s dysfunction close to an election. According to Congressional Research Service data, a shutdown in March would be the latest in an election year since 1990.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the leader of the Senate Republicans who are feeling confident they can win control of the chamber this fall, said Monday a shutdown should be avoided.

“We have the means and time to avoid a shutdown and make serious headway on annual appropriations,” he said on the Senate floor. “But, as always, the task at hand will require that everyone rows in the same direction and away from poison pills.”