US Congress in race against deadline of govt shutdown

by IANS |

Washington, Nov  (IANS) The Congress returns this week to race against the deadline of a government shutdown, just three days away, to fund federal agencies. Speaker Mike Johnson has to use his dexterity to get the appropriation bills passed, getting both the Republicans and Democrats aboard so as to keep the government treasury open.

The unusual ‘ladder’ continuing resolution has some Republicans willing to listen, but others opposing the lack of spending cuts over which Democrats appear sceptical.

Kevin McCarthy was ousted as Speaker months ago when he extended the funding to forty-five days overridig hardliners demands, media reports said.

“Congress returns this week to face a harrowing reality with a deadline to fund the government on Friday at midnight and little progress has been made so far to do so. And for newly minted Speaker Mike Johnson, the fight ahead marks a major test -- and one that foretold his predecessor’s loss of the gavel," US News and World Report commented.

The two chambers have until Saturday to forge an agreement to keep the government funded, and to extend the deadline with an adhoc measure like last September. What shape the continuing resolution will take remains unclear until now, even as the House and the Senate move ahead in different directions, complicating the situation.

Johnson, since his election as Speaker following weeks of intra-party turmoil, outlined an ambitious schedule to have the House pass the remaining full-year spending bills, acknowledging that a short-term measure would likely be necessary. He is yet to outline what that CR would look like, giving the House little time to work out the kinks, reports said.

Johnson’s proposed CR maintains two timelines to keep the treasury funding open.

First, the government’s funding at current levels into the New Year. While some of the government agencies would be funded until January 19, others would be funded until February 2, giving the lawmakers ample space to negotiate the spending bills.

“This two-step continuing resolution is a necessary bill to place the House Republicans in the best position to fight for conservative victories,” Johnson said in a social media post on Saturday.

While Johnson’s measure would cater to his party when it comes to progress, the continuing resolution doesn’t include the steep spending cuts that conservative hawks have eyed. A handful of House Republicans have already opposed the measure. Johnson finds himself in the same hotspot that tested former Speaker Kevin McCarthy just months ago that precipitated his ouster.

“Even so, for Johnson, the honeymoon period after he was unanimously elected as Speaker seemed to be coming to an end last week, as leadership had to pull votes on two full-year spending bills at the last minute amid disagreement within the party," US News and World Report said.

The two Bills are considered least controversial of the remaining five appropriation legislations that face opposition from several sides.

The legislations face a complex passage situation as they are punctuated with conservative social policies and have been marked up well below the spending levels that the Senate is pursuing. So, they could be subject to major changes facing less extreme Republicans to oppose taking votes on controversial measures that have little chance of becoming law, reports said.

With a razor-thin majority in the House, nearly all Republicans have to stick together to pass the legislation. And without any backing from Democrats to cushion the Republican margins, that task grows even harder, media reports said.

But some Democrats appeared open to Johnson’s stopgap measure, which is effectively a clean continuing resolution, despite its unusual two-step deadlines that some have dubbed a “ladder” CR.

“I don’t like this laddered CR approach. It looks gimmicky to me, but I’m open to what the House is talking about,” Senator Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, told NBC on Sunday.

“The priority has to be keeping the government open.”

The White House has opposed Johnson’s laddered CR calling it an “unserious proposal” that wastes time. 

It’s unclear if the Senate would even consider it as a measure to pass where the Democrats are a majority. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is therefore pursuing the same approach he adopted where he pushed a bipartisan approach to avoid shutdown to keep the government open. 

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