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Kevin McCarthy in the Capitol

The clock is ticking for Congress

This is a huge week for Washington. We keep saying that but it’s true. The federal government will shut down midnight Saturday (technically) barring any action from Congress. You’ll be hearing from us a lot this week. So make sure to sign up for Premium to get our text alerts, which typically beat the competition on issues critical to governance and legislating.

Let’s start here: The U.S.-Mexico border is a mess. President Joe Biden is facing incessant questions about his age, stamina and ability to do his job. His poll numbers are terrible. Hunter Biden has been indicted, with more charges possible. And House GOP leaders have launched an impeachment inquiry.

Yet House Republicans are about to pick a slew of political fights they simply can’t win — as well as causing an expected government shutdown — handing Biden a golden opportunity to portray the GOP as incapable or unwilling of governing. We’ll note that former President Donald Trump has called for a shutdown also, so it’s a twofer for the White House.

This is precisely what Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been trying to drill into the minds of House Republicans, especially hardline conservatives who refuse to support any stopgap funding bill.

Now that we’ve set the backdrop here, let’s get into what’s expected to happen this week and all the possible permutations that could unfold.

The House and Senate are both out today for the Yom Kippur holiday. Have an easy fast if you are observing. Both chambers return Tuesday.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has already begun prepping a shell bill that will carry a stopgap funding measure, including Ukraine aid and disaster relief money.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is involved in talks to get it across the finish line, as are White House and Appropriations Committee staffers. Senate leadership aides caution the two sides aren’t yet close to a deal.

Senators on both sides have said they want the stopgap bill to last through at least early December. McCarthy’s CR proposals have only run through early- to mid-November.

It will take several days for the Senate to process this bill. It’s possible the Senate won’t send it to the House until Saturday (the shutdown deadline) or later. This is because Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has already said he won’t give consent to speeding up the floor process if the CR includes funding for Ukraine. Other Republicans may object, too.

Now let’s shift to the House. House GOP leaders have lined up four appropriations bills this week: Defense, Agriculture, State-Foreign Ops and Homeland Security. But first they have to pass a complicated rule to allow this to happen. On a GOP member call Saturday, McCarthy and senior leaders made clear that they want everyone engaged in the process so they can pass these bills.

And House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, anxious not to be embarrassed again, urged Republicans to tell him if they plan to vote against the rule.

McCarthy and his allies involved in this process — which now include House Financial Services Committee Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) — argue that Republicans should focus on the DHS spending bill and border security policies because that’s where they see possible political and policy wins. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) also backs this approach.

But here’s the challenge: There’s deep skepticism in the House Republican Conference that they can pass any spending bills. Some in the leadership think they’ll only be able to pass the Defense bill. But there’s no unanimity on that viewpoint.

And as we’ve said several times during the last week, passing these party-line spending bills doesn’t help avert the looming shutdown.

McCarthy has said repeatedly that he wants to pass a stopgap package to give the House GOP time to pass additional spending bills. This would, in theory, allow the House to get into a negotiation with the Senate over the entirety of FY2024 spending.

On the call Saturday, McCarthy floated a 30-day CR, which would keep government funded until Oct. 31. He also floated a 45-day CR, which would last until Nov. 15. A longer CR makes more sense given the herculean task of reconciling the Senate’s spending bills with the House’s. But, of course, it’s entirely possible the Senate sends the House a 60-day CR or longer.

McCarthy plans to try to pass his short-term funding bill — 30 or 45 days with the H.R. 2 border security bill and possibly a debt commission — toward the end of the week, after the other four bills. By that time, the Senate could be sending McCarthy its version of the CR. The question remains, how does McCarthy handle this? If McCarthy doesn’t put the Senate-passed CR on the floor, there will be a shutdown.

Moderate Republicans who belong to the Problem Solvers Caucus are already talking about endorsing a compromise proposal to end any shutdown by signing onto a Democratic discharge petition. Six Republicans are needed to hand control of the floor to Democrats, who can then pass a funding bill.

Of course, McCarthy doesn’t want this to happen, but he probably wouldn’t mind keeping his hands clean here. It’s too late to avoid a shutdown, but a bill to reopen government agencies can be enacted this way.

One more thing: Thanks to the Congressional Research Service, here’s the current estimate of federal employees by state and congressional district.

— Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Andrew Desiderio

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.