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Mike Johnson

Will the government shut down next week?

Will the federal government shut down after Nov. 17? It isn’t clear at all right now how the House and Senate will avoid a shutdown or a short-term “lapse in appropriations” next week.

Even taking just a few moments to examine the situation leaves one obvious takeaway — what’s transpiring on Capitol Hill right now is, in many ways, the perfect recipe for a shutdown. We’re not saying it will happen. But we aren’t saying it won’t either.

First, some news: We expect Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to file cloture today on the vehicle for a short-term continuing resolution designed to keep federal agencies open past the Nov. 17 deadline. Schumer’s move will set up an initial procedural vote for early next week.

There’s no end-date on a possible Senate CR yet, but mid-December is very likely. This will enrage House Republicans, who’ve been very clear that they don’t want to get jammed up against the holidays by the Senate. But any such CR proposal will get more than the 60 Senate votes needed to move forward. In other words, the Senate is preparing to jam the slow-moving House — if needed.

Speaker Mike Johnson is in the early stages of his first big legislative fight. He could’ve had the upper hand this week by passing a CR before the Senate. But Johnson decided against that — cut him some slack, he’s new at this. Rather, the new speaker spent the week talking to his members about how they prefer to solve the government funding problem. He may come to regret that decision. His leadership team certainly has.

Johnson hasn’t outlined his plan to fund the government. The Louisiana Republican signaled to his leadership team that he plans to pursue some sort of two-step CR, with several spending bills expiring in December and the remainder in January. A January-February split is also under consideration, according to several senior House GOP appropriators. This approach is being referred to as a “laddered CR,” and it’s confusing even to Republicans.

We scooped in the PM edition Wednesday night that Johnson’s leadership team tentatively plans to go to the floor with a stopgap funding bill on Tuesday. That means he needs to post the legislation online by Saturday to remain faithful to the 72-hour rule. This leaves very little time to respond to any setbacks.

The two-step CR is problematic if you want to avoid a government shutdown. Senate Republicans are breaking with Johnson on both the mechanism and timeline for a short-term funding measure.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top GOP appropriator, didn’t hold back when asked what she thought of the “laddered” approach.

“I have a lot of reservations. I don’t see how that would work, and it seems unnecessarily complex,” Collins said, expressing the view of numerous Republicans we spoke with. “You’d have to go through the threat of shutdowns of part of [the] government over and over again. So, it doesn’t seem to me to make a lot of sense. But I’m willing to hear more about it.”

“I hate saying this because I don’t want to be here for the holidays, but a December date that doesn’t require a lot of extensions of other legislation is useful,” added Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a senior Appropriations Committee member. “I certainly hope we avoid a later date… because it means we’ll have less incentive to actually get out of a CR.”

House Democrats: They aren’t running to save Johnson either. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said his caucus would only support a clean CR. Jeffies dismissed the laddered-CR approach: “It’s ridiculous.”

Jeffries’ staff has been in touch with senior aides to Johnson. Democratic leadership keeps reiterating that the laddered approach won’t get their votes. Attaching Israel aid may yield a few votes. But a clean CR would open the floodgates to broad Democratic support.

Internal problems. Johnson’s “honeymoon” as the new speaker seems like it’s coming to a rapid end, raising questions about how much leeway House Republicans are willing to give him after the Senate rejects his approach.

Consider this: House Republicans pulled the Transportation-HUD spending bill Tuesday night. The Financial Services spending bill is up for final passage today but it’s not clear the House GOP leadership can pass it. Next week, Johnson and his top lieutenants will try to bring the Labor-HHS and Commerce-Justice-Science funding bills to the floor. These are the two most controversial of the 12 annual spending bills. The outlook isn’t good for either. Johnson simply doesn’t have a lot of juice to turn votes right now if he insists on passing GOP-centric bills.

In sum, Johnson doesn’t have a real plan. He’s leaving everything for next week — an exceedingly risky strategy. His leadership and the rank and file are in the dark about the possible end game. The Senate is moving in a different direction. President Joe Biden and top administration officials keep issuing veto threats over any bill that doesn’t adhere to the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

And by the way, Israel aid is on ice. And aid for Ukraine and Taiwan is stalled.

— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan

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