Congressional Leaders Announce Deal To Avert Shutdown

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by Tyler Durden
Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024 - 09:01 PM

Update (1748ET): Congressional leaders have reached an agreement to avert a government shutdown this week.

Under the deal, six full bills will be extended which will cover the departments of Agriculture, Justice, Commerce, Energy, Interior, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development through March 8, while the remaining six annual funding bills covering the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, the Pentagon and other offices will be covered through March 22.

So, more can-kicking.

"We are in agreement that Congress must work in a bipartisan manner to fund our government," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) in a joint statement on Wednesday.

"To give the House and Senate Appropriations Committee adequate time to execute on this deal in principle, including drafting, preparing report language, scoring and other technical matters, and to allow members 72 hours to review, a short-term continuing resolution to fund agencies through March 8 and the 22 will be necessary, and voted on by the House and Senate this week."

Under the current stopgap spending bill, funding for four of the 12 full-year spending bills is set to expire Friday, while funding for the remaining eight bills is up on March 8.

The latest agreement comes as spending cardinals in both chambers have signaled more time may be needed to complete their funding work after weeks of tense bipartisan negotiations. -The Hill

"I think we possibly could have been ready for next week and gotten it done. But it takes a while to process bills in both houses right now," said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), chair of the subcommittee responsible for creating the budget for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, in a Wednesday statement to The Hill.

"I think that that will give us enough time to conclude, but I think we’re at a point where most remaining issues have been resolved," she said in response to a question over a stopgap through March 22.

Now to see if Speaker Mike Johnson can appease the Freedom Caucus, or if he'll cut a deal across the aisle - the move which resulted in his predecessor's ouster.

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Stop us if you've heard this one before...

Congressional lawmakers are 'very close to announcing a deal in principle on the first tranche of funding bills,' which should 'unlock a short-term' continuing resolution (CR) which would change the funding deadlines from this Friday and the 8th of March, to the 8th and the 22nd of March, Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News reports.

So - a little can-kick and we get to do this dance all over again.

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As Congress scrambles once again to avert a government shutdown before a Friday headline, which is looking more and more likely, here are the details of what will happen if nothing is done.

The shutdown will come in two phases - around 20% of government funding will run out in two phases - one on Friday night, and the other a week later on March 8. The other 80% of government agencies would see their funding expire on various other dates if Congress can't come to an agreement.

The 20% of agencies affected by the two near-term dates include the:

  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Food and Drug Administration

Some areas of the Department of Defense, such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department, will also be affected by the expiring funds.

That said, activities considered essential to public safety, economic stability and the president's constitutional authority would be exempt - such as air traffic controllers, who would stay on the job, but go unpaid. FDA food safety inspectors would similarly remain working.

Veterans' benefits - including health care and pensions, would also continue during a government shutdown per the department's contingency plan, the Washington Post reports, which adds that 96% of the agency's nearly 414,000 employees will continue working - either because their pay isn't linked to annual appropriations, or they are exempt from furloughs.

Programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) or WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) will seen no interruptions for the foreseeable future, as both have sources of contingency funds that can float them along past the deadline.

That said, roughly 5 million families receiving rental assistance stand to see sharp cuts to their benefits unless key housing programs are funded.

And while the air traffic controllers would remain in their posts, some 16,000 of the FAA's 45,000 employees would be furloughed. Those who will remain on the job (aside from air traffic controllers) include accident investigators, anti-terrorism and intelligence officials and other safety officials.

The Post outlines four potential paths forward for Congress:

  1. Pass the bills: Lawmakers could drop their disagreements and speedily adopt legislation to fund the government. There’s been positive movement in that direction since Biden summoned congressional leaders to the White House on Tuesday, but an agreement is still a ways off.
  2. Pass another CR: Congress could drop its plan to pass appropriations — or annual spending bills — and pass another CR, in essence kicking the can down the road again. Lawmakers are already considering a continuing resolution to avoid the March 9 shutdown deadline, which would extend funding for the agencies affected until March 22.
  3. Pass a very short CR: If lawmakers are nearing an agreement but just need another beat to dot their i’s and cross their t’s, they could pass a CR that lasts only a few days. That would keep the government open and give both the House and Senate enough time to take up new spending legislation without an intense time crunch. Senate Republicans discussed this option at their weekly lunch meeting on Tuesday; it’s unclear how House Republicans would feel about this approach.
  4. Shut down the government, but keep it brief: Congress actually buys itself a little a more time to solve government shutdowns each time it passes a CR. It’s been setting the deadline on a Friday, so if the government does shut down, lawmakers have the weekend to try to open the government up again while most federal workers are already off the clock. If lawmakers are very close to a deal, they could choose to try to pass legislation to resolve the situation over the weekend and have the government open again on Monday like nothing ever happened. In this scenario, a partial shutdown might only last a few hours, even if final passage of new funding legislation comes Saturday morning.

The latest shutdown traces its roots back to the spring of 2023, when Biden and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made a deal to cap federal discretionary spending in the 2024 fiscal year in exchange for suspending the US debt limit.

McCarthy infuriated House conservatives for not extracting deeper spending cuts. Instead of holding firm, McCarthy reached across the aisle and made a deal with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution (or CR). Following this, the conservatives - led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), ousted the former speaker and installed Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) in his face.

And Johnson now finds himself in the exact same pickle.