WASHINGTON – A government shutdown seemed all but inevitable when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy spoke out Thursday and vowed he would not abide by Senate legislation aimed at shutting down the federal government despite Republicans’ fight in the House House of Representatives to find an alternative to keep it running fully.
Congress is at an impasse, just days before a devastating federal shutdown that would halt payroll for many of the federal government’s roughly 2 million employees and 2 million active-duty military and reservists, furlough many of those workers and cut government services.
But the House and Senate are pursuing different paths to avert those consequences, even as time is running out before federal funding runs out after midnight Saturday.
“I still have time. I have time to do other things,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday night, adding: “At the end of the day, we’ll get it done.”
The Senate is working to pass a bipartisan measure that would fund the government through Nov. 17 while longer-term negotiations continue, while also providing $6 billion for Ukraine and $6 billion for U.S. disaster relief would.
Meanwhile, the House increased the vote count on four of the dozen annual spending bills that fund various agencies, hoping to persuade enough Republicans to support a House-drafted continuing resolution that temporarily funds the government and provides security the US border with Mexico increased. It’s a long shot, but McCarthy predicted a deal.
The MPs, already exhausted from days of nightly negotiations, faced another long night of voting. The tension was evident at McCarthy’s closed-door meeting with Republicans Thursday morning, which those in attendance said was marked by tense exchanges between the speaker and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida.
Gaetz, who has taunted McCarthy for weeks with threats to oust him from his post, confronted the speaker about conservative online influencers being paid to post negative things about him. McCarthy responded that he wouldn’t waste his time on something like that, Gaetz told reporters as he left the meeting.
McCarthy’s allies left the meeting angry about Gaetz’s tactics.
With his majority splintered, McCarthy is scrambling to come up with a plan to avoid a shutdown and win Republican support. The speaker told Republicans that he would announce a stopgap plan from Republicans on Friday, known as a “continuing resolution,” or CR, as those in attendance said, while trying to force Senate Democrats to make some concessions.
But with time running out, many Republican lawmakers either withheld their support for a temporary measure until they had a chance to see it. Others are considering joining Democrats without McCarthy’s support to introduce a bill that would prevent a shutdown.
Given his ability to host his conference when in doubt, McCarthy has little opportunity to negotiate with Senate Democrats. He has also tried to bring President Joe Biden into negotiations, but the White House has so far shown no interest.
Biden tried to put more pressure on McCarthy by pushing him to compromise with Democrats, even if it could jeopardize his job.
“I think the speaker is making a choice between his speakership and American interests,” Biden said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Congress and the White House reached an agreement back in the summer that would allow the government to continue borrowing to pay its bills. But McCarthy backed away from that deal and promoted a shutdown, pandering to Republicans who say it didn’t do enough to cut spending, he said.
“By focusing on the views of a few radical people rather than those of the many, Speaker McCarthy has made a shutdown far more likely,” Schumer said.
McCarthy insisted in a CNBC interview that the House of Representatives would have a say. “Will I accept and submit to the decisions of the Senate? The answer is: No, we are our own bodies.”
But later at the Capitol, he openly complained about the difficulty he was having pushing Republican lawmakers.
“Members say they only want to vote for individual bills, but they’ve been holding me up all summer and not letting me bring up individual bills. Then they say they won’t vote for a stopgap solution that keeps the government open,” McCarthy told reporters.
“So I don’t know, where do you go in that scenario?”
The speaker also hinted that he had a backup plan, but gave no indication that he was willing to work with Democrats to pass anything in the House.
Meanwhile, the White House and Department of Homeland Security notified employees on Thursday to prepare for a shutdown, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press. Furloughed employees would have four hours on Monday to prepare their offices for closure.
The White House plans to retain all commissioned officers. This includes Chief of Staff Jeff Zients, Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and other senior aides by declaring them “exempt” during a shutdown, the White House email said.
Military troops and federal employees, including police officers, air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration officials, will also report to work as they are critical to protecting life and property. They would miss their paychecks if the shutdown lasts beyond Oct. 13, the next scheduled payday, although they are expected to receive back pay once the shutdown ends.
Social Security payments for seniors, Medicare and Medicaid payments to health care providers, and disability payments to veterans will continue as much of the government will continue to function. But there will be critical services that will actually be shut down. For example, the U.S. Treasury Department says two-thirds of IRS employees may be furloughed, phone calls from taxpayers to the agency are going unanswered, and 363 tax assistance centers across the country are closing.
Many Republicans have expressed fears that they could be blamed for a shutdown – including in the Senate, where many GOP members are allying with Democrats on preliminary legislation.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he agreed with many of House Republicans’ goals but warned that a shutdown would achieve none of them.
“Rather than leading to meaningful policy outcomes, it would actually roll back the important progress that has been made on a number of important issues,” McConnell said.
Still, Senate Republicans huddled together for most of the day to craft a plan that could win support to increase funding for border security. McCarthy’s allies in the House also hoped the threat of a shutdown could help conservatives in their push to limit federal spending and combat illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Any time you have an emergency solution like this, you have an opportunity to take advantage of it,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La. “This is another chance. America doesn’t want an open southern border. The polls are crystal clear. It has a profound impact on us.”
Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim and Fatima Hussein contributed reporting.