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5 things to watch as Congress veers toward shutdown

Congress has less than two weeks to strike a deal on spending or risk a government shutdown, and House Republicans’ opening offer is already hitting roadblocks.

The GOP over the weekend unveiled a 160-plus page proposal to keep the government funded, along with a number of wish-list items to fetch conservative support that would have a hard time passing the Democratic-led Senate.

But questions are already rising about its chances in the GOP-led House, where more than a dozen hard-line conservatives have come out against the partisan bill less than a day after the text became public.

Here are five things to watch for this week. 

Do conservatives derail proposed CR?

House GOP leadership is setting its sights on a vote on the short-term funding bill, also known as continuing resolution (CR), this week.  

But the measure has already seen pushback from the party’s right flank, threatening its chances of making it past the House, where Republicans can only afford to lose a handful of GOP votes to pass legislation without any Democratic support.

More than a dozen Republicans said Monday they plan to vote “no” on the measure, unveiled Sunday night, or are leaning that way.

While CRs passed in recent years have been used to freeze spending at current levels to buy time for dealmakers in both chambers to negotiate updated levels for the coming fiscal year, the bill proposed by Republicans seeks cuts to discretionary spending.

In its current form, the proposed bill would trim the spending by roughly 8 percent, while shielding funds for the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and disaster relief from cuts. 

The bill also includes policies from H.R. 2, Republicans’ signature border bill, which would restart construction of the southern border wall, restrict access to asylum, and boost hiring of border agents, among other measures.

The deal — worked out between the hard-line House Freedom Caucus and the Main Street Caucus — comes as GOP leadership has had difficulty unifying the party’s various factions amid pressure from conservatives for aggressive spending cuts and policy changes in areas like the border and at the Department of Justice.

It remains to be seen whether leadership can find the votes to pass the proposed CR, because the current opposition, if it holds, is enough to sink the measure.

Will conservatives allow funding bills on the floor?

House Republicans hit a roadblock last week in trying to tee up floor action on an annual Defense funding bill.

Opposition from conservatives forced leaders to punt on a rules vote, a procedural step that traditionally gets the support of the majority party even if some members oppose the underlying legislation.

But it’s not the first time hard-line Republicans have used rule votes to derail bills this year. Over the summer, they stalled floor activity for a week after they refused to support any rules over opposition to spending levels McCarthy worked out with President Biden.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) indicated in an interview Sunday with Fox News that the lower chamber will shoot for floor action on the measure this week, “win or lose.”  

“I’m trying to get that to move forward to make sure that the Republicans aren’t stopping us from being able to get our work done before the 30th,” McCarthy said then. 

“I gave them an opportunity this weekend to try to work through this, and we’ll bring it to the floor, win or lose and show the American public who’s for the Department of Defense,” he said.

With Democrats unlikely to vote for the legislation and conservatives continuing to demand a full plan on spending levels for all the House’s appropriations bills before moving forward on any single spending bill, it’s unclear whether McCarthy will have the votes to advance the measure.

The annual defense funding bill is just one of the 12 annual funding bills Congress is working to pass in the weeks that will lay out how the government will be funded for most of next year.

If passed in the day ahead, the House would still have 10 more bills to approve as part of the annual spending process, while the Senate has yet to pass any of its funding bills for fiscal 2024.

Does the Senate move forward on funding?

Senators on both sides were hopeful the chamber could pass its first package of annual funding bills this month, but the legislation was held up last week after opposition from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).  

Johnson took issue with the legislation being considered as a package, demanding the minibus be split into three separate bills — prompting pushback from some GOP negotiators who said the proposal would take much longer to pass the bills in the upper chamber.

“The fact is, we’ll take plenty of time on the three bills, and we’re going to have a robust amendment process. So what difference does it make?” Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at the time.

“We don’t have time to take each bill individually to the floor or we’re going to end up with either an omnibus, a government shutdown or a yearlong continuing resolution, which would fund programs that shouldn’t be funded anymore and prevent new programs from starting up,” she added.

Senate Democrats on Monday moved to suspend the chamer’s rules to advance the bill, though that would require the support of two-thirds of senators.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday discussions will continue between leadership and appropriators to get “the appropriations process back on track.”

What do House Democrats do?

It’s all but certain that the CR the House Republicans proposed Sunday gets no Democratic votes.

The open question is whether Democrats step in at any point to help pass some sort of funding bill — and what that help could look like.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) last week said Democrats will not help Republicans overcome procedural hurdles to bring spending bills to the floor.

The New Democrat Coalition sent McCarthy a letter urging him to bring to the floor bipartisan bills similar to those making their way through the Senate.

“We urge you to reject the hyperpartisan approach and focus on passing government funding legislation that can actually become law. In the absence of viable appropriations bills from the House Appropriations Committee, we urge you to, at the very least, bring bills similar to the bipartisan bills that have already passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee for a vote on the House Floor,” the 95 Democrats led by Reps. Brad Schneider (Ill.), Annie Kuster (N.H.) and Derek Kilmer (Wash.) wrote.

While relations have continued to sour between both sides in light of the recent impeachment inquiry into the president, Democrats of various stripes say both parties should work together to avoid a shutdown. 

“I think it’s irresponsible to shut the government down, period. It impacts our national security; it impacts a whole lot of things; it impacts people’s daily life, so I think we should keep the government running,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) also told The Hill recently he sees the two issues as separate, saying Democrats will continue to call out Republicans on “all the nonsense as it relates to impeachment — but at the end of the day, we got to keep the government open.”

Do other funding deadlines get met?

As lawmakers stare down the Sept. 30 shutdown deadline, both chambers face several other key deadlines the same day.

That includes the coming deadlines for authorizations for the National Flood Insurance Program and the Federal Aviation Administration. 

A group of Democrats has also introduced legislation, dubbed the Child Care Stabilization Act, to extend pandemic-era funding for child care that is set to run out later this month.

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