House returns from recess as leaders weigh short-term bill to avoid a shutdown

WASHINGTON — With less than three days to go before a partial government shutdown, Congress is again buzzing with chatter about a short-term funding bill to prevent a lapse.

The House returns to session Wednesday after a two-week recess, and Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has promised to give members 72 hours before voting on a funding deal, leaving insufficient time to avoid a partial shutdown by the Friday midnight deadline without a stopgap bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Wednesday he hopes the government funding deal will be inked “very soon.”

“Negotiators in both chambers continue working to ensure the government will not shut down at the end of the week,” he said. “We continue to make very good progress on an agreement, and we are very close to getting it done.”

He added that averting a shutdown requires resisting the demands of the “extreme hard right, who want to burn everything down.”

Schumer’s remarks came a day after President Joe Biden hosted the top four congressional leaders at the White House to try to hammer out separate deals on funding the government and sending aid to Ukraine and other foreign allies. No agreements were reached.

But Johnson told the White House on Tuesday he is open to passing short-term funding extensions to allow negotiators to put the finishing touches on a full-year government funding deal while avoiding a shutdown.

Without a new bill, part of the federal government would shut down early Saturday, and the rest would shutter a week later. Johnson proposed moving the two deadlines to March 8 and March 22, two sources familiar with the negotiations said.

Johnson’s office said he’s open to deadline extensions with a short-term bill, also known as a continuing resolution, or “CR,” but with the caveat that significant progress must be made.

“Any CR would be part of a larger agreement to finish a number of appropriations bills, ensuring adequate time for drafting text and for members to review prior to casting votes,” said Athina Lawson, a spokesperson for the speaker.

There is broad agreement among the congressional leaders that a shutdown would be a fruitless exercise. But Democratic leaders haven’t said whether they’ll accept another short-term bill even though they haven’t ruled out the idea.

“We are so proud that we have their Band-Aid budgets that take us from week to week and month to month. We are so proud that we keep the lights on in Washington,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in jest. “We should be dealing with issues that are meaningful to Americans immediately,” like solving the border crisis and protecting in vitro fertilization, or IVF, he added.

As House Republicans hold out for more, Congress is still operating on the 2022 budget Schumer and Biden passed with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., during the Democratic trifecta. Lawmakers have punted on new funding bills three times this Congress and now face a fourth.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, which writes funding bills, said proceeding with yet another CR “really is a leadership decision.”

“If that’s what they think would be the way to go, I’m fine with that,” she said. “But I always have an urgent need to get things done.”

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