Biden, congressional leaders to meet as government shutdown nears

Washington — President Biden is set to meet with the top congressional leaders on Tuesday morning as lawmakers have just a handful of days to avert a partial government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Mike Johnson and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries are set to meet with the president and vice president in the Oval Office to discuss the effort to keep the government open beyond March 1. But consensus around how to proceed appeared out of reach heading into the meeting.

“While we’ve made some good progress on a number of fronts, unfortunately, our House Republican colleagues are still struggling to figure themselves out,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Monday. “There’s a lot of uncertainty over how the House will proceed in the coming days.”

Without a measure to fund the government or extend current funding levels on the first four of 12 spending bills, a partial shutdown would begin Saturday at 12 a.m., impacting parts of the federal government from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Food and Drug Administration. A week later, the second deadline arrives, when the bulk of government funding is set to expire.

President Biden speaks during a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., on May 9, 2023. / Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Schumer said he’s hopeful that Republicans will work with Democrats to avoid a shutdown. And his counterpart in the Senate appeared to be on the same page.

“Shutting down the government is harmful to the country, and it never produces positive outcomes on either policy or politics,” McConnell said Monday, adding that a shutdown is “entirely avoidable.”

McConnell said Congress has the means and “just enough time” to avert a shutdown and make inroads on the annual appropriations bills. But he noted that the task will require that all parties work toward the clean appropriations bills, and “away from poison pills.”

Despite reaching an overarching agreement on topline numbers for government funding earlier this year, disagreements have remained in the funding effort. House conservatives have pushed for policy riders to be embedded within the funding legislation. Those policies are nonstarters for Democrats, complicating the path forward.

Although lawmakers have been aiming to approve all 12 spending bills to fund the government for fiscal year 2024, after already passing three stopgap measures to keep the government funded, another funding patch appears likely as the deadline draws near and the disagreements persist.

The supplemental funding package

The leaders are also expected to discuss passing a supplemental funding bill that would provide tens of billions of dollars in aid to U.S. allies and partners, including about $60 billion for Ukraine and $14.1 billion for Israel, along with around $9.2 billion for humanitarian assistance in Gaza. The Senate passed the legislation earlier this month on a bipartisan basis, but Johnson has so far blocked its path forward in the House, as the lower chamber mulls its own approach to the supplemental funding.

The group of leaders met in January on the foreign aid, along with a border security agreement that drew pushback from Republicans, who argued it didn’t go far enough. When the deal was eventually announced and quickly rejected by the GOP, the foreign aid package without border security was offered as an alternative.

Absent support from House leadership, lawmakers have explored a handful of avenues to get the foreign aid package to the floor of the lower chamber. One option is a discharge petition, a rarely successful legislative maneuver that allows a majority of members to bring a bill to the floor, bypassing leadership in the process. A group of House centrists also unveiled legislation earlier this month designed to get around the stalemate by providing foreign aid while enacting tougher border security measures.

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