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Schumer Johnson

Why government funding is in more trouble than you think

News: Just one week before a partial government shutdown, House and Senate leaders are still squabbling over high-profile policy riders that Republicans are demanding as part of the FY2024 spending bills.

The dispute centers around abortion, guns and earmarks, among other issues. And it’s slowing down the process of coming to a final deal over the annual spending bills, a full five months into the 2024 fiscal year.

Senior aides in both parties say another short-term continuing resolution will almost certainly be necessary to avoid a partial government shutdown on March 1 and March 8. Needless to say, this will be a problem for Speaker Mike Johnson, who has made opposition to stopgap funding measures the one place he’s willing to express strong opinions.

Lawmakers and aides in both chambers note they’re making “good progress” in the ongoing bicameral talks. It’s also clear that neither side in the negotiations wants or would benefit from a government shutdown. The screaming is often the loudest right before a spending deal gets done, however.

Yet Johnsonunder pressure from conservative hardliners — is taking a tough line on these riders, which complicates any agreement to pass the 12 bills.

Freedom Caucus members released a letter on Thursday calling for Johnson to defend House GOP policy provisions. If not, the conservatives warned, a majority of House Republicans will oppose any spending deal. We reported that the Freedom Caucus voiced this threat last week in a private meeting with Johnson.

Top aides to Johnson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries have been meeting with appropriations staffers as often as twice each day, trying to close out the 12 spending bills ahead of the twin deadlines.

Here’s the overriding political dynamic: House Republicans filled up their 2024 spending bills with red-meat policy provisions on issues ranging from abortion to guns to DEI programs to strict limits on government spending. But the House Republican leadership knew all along that Democrats, who control the Senate and the White House, would nix these riders in any end-year negotiations. House GOP leaders were only able to pass seven of the 12 bills in their chamber.

And now, the dog has caught the car, so to speak.

Democrats complain that House Republicans have yet to come to grips with the reality that many of their policy preferences are going to be tossed aside. Not only will the Senate and President Joe Biden reject them, but with House Democrats likely providing the bulk of the votes to pass the spending bills, there’s no way for Republicans to win this showdown.

“We Democrats are doing everything we can to avoid a shutdown,” Schumer told us in an interview this week. “I am hopeful that, on the Republican side, cooler heads prevail, and that they come to the conclusion that a shutdown is bad for America. Because it’s certainly bad for them.”

More from Schumer:

Party leaders in both chambers understand that time is of the essence. There’s a desire to get the package for the first four spending bills that expire on March 1 released this weekend or Monday in advance of next week’s deadline. In order to do that, an agreement will have to be in place in the next few days. Appropriators will need time to “read out” the package, meaning going through the legislation line-by-line. This takes a day or two.

The House isn’t back in town until next Wednesday, although party leaders expect the chamber to move first on any spending package in order to help sway Senate GOP conservatives. It’s also clear that getting a CR through the Senate by March 1 would be very difficult minus a bipartisan, bicameral deal.

Schumer indicated he hasn’t yet made a decision on whether a CR will be needed.

“I’m not going to get into the internal discussions. My staff is having intense discussions with Speaker Johnson,” Schumer said. “We’ve made it clear how bad a shutdown would hurt America. And we hope that he will be able to buck the extremists in his caucus and do the right thing.”

There are a tremendous number of decisions that the Hill leadership has to make over the next few days.

Does Johnson move a short-term CR if necessary or will he allow the federal government to shut down?

How will the spending bills be packaged? Only four bills — Agriculture, MilCon-VA, Transportation-HUD and Energy and Water — have to be adopted by the March 1 deadline. The remaining eight bills — which cover three-quarters of annual spending — don’t expire until March 8.

There’s already discussion of Labor-HHS and Defense being paired together to maximize vote totals, although no decisions have been made. Sources close to the talks describe them as “fluid,” which is par for the course here.

Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Andrew Desiderio

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