Biden calls meeting with congressional leaders as shutdown threat grows

Washington — President Biden is set to meet with congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday, as lawmakers squabble over a path forward while a deadline to fund the government looms large at week’s end.

Congress has just a handful of days to approve the first four appropriations bills to prevent a partial shutdown after March 1. The second deadline comes a week later, on March 8, after which funding for the bulk of government agencies is set to expire.

Despite the urgency, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday that the two chambers were unable to release legislative text by a weekend deadline, giving lawmakers time to review the appropriations bills ahead of votes later in the week. The New York Democrat put the blame on House Republicans, saying they “need more time to sort themselves out.”

“We are mere days away from a partial government shutdown on March 1,” Schumer said in a letter to colleagues on Sunday. “Unless Republicans get serious, the extreme Republican shutdown will endanger our economy, raise costs, lower safety, and exact untold pain on the American people.”

Without a measure to fund the government or extend current funding levels, a partial shutdown would occur early Saturday. Funding would expire for the departments of Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Agriculture, Energy, Housing and Urban Development and the Food and Drug Administration, among related agencies. Funding for the remaining government agencies would expire a week later.

President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) during a meeting with Democratic Congressional leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. / Credit: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Lawmakers have been aiming to approve all 12 spending bills to fund the government for fiscal year 2024, after three stopgap measures to keep the government funded since October. But another funding patch — however brief — appears likely as the deadline draws near. Either way, the House is expected to lead on a funding measure when lawmakers return on Wednesday.

Speaker Mike Johnson chastised Schumer for the “counterproductive rhetoric” in his letter on Sunday. He said in a social media post that “the House has worked nonstop, and is continuing to work in good faith, to reach agreement with the Senate on compromise government funding bills in advance of the deadlines.”

Johnson said that some of the delay comes from new demands from Democrats not previously included in the Senate’s appropriations bills that he said are “priorities that are farther left than what their chamber agreed upon.”

“This is not a time for petty politics,” the Louisiana Republican said. “House Republicans will continue to work in good faith and hope to reach an outcome as soon as possible, even as we continue to insist that our own border security must be addressed immediately.”

Biden is also expected at Tuesday’s meeting to urge congressional leaders to find a path forward on the Senate-passed foreign aid package, which would provide tens of billions of dollars in aid to U.S. allies, including about $60 billion for Ukraine and $14.1 billion for Israel, along with around $9.2 billion for humanitarian assistance in Gaza. Johnson has so far refused to bring up the legislation in the House, as the lower chamber mulls its approach to the supplemental funding.

Nikole Killion contributed reporting. 

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