Congress to vote on measure to hold off government shutdown

This week, lawmakers prepare to vote on a temporary measure that would extend funding for key departments through March. Without an extension, several programs will lose funding by the end of this week.

By Shelly Brisbin & Glorie G. MartinezJanuary 15, 2024 4:21 pm,

Can Congress reach a deal to hold off a government shutdown?

That’s the question in Washington this week, as lawmakers prepare to vote on a temporary measure that would extend funding for key departments through March. Without an extension, programs affecting agriculture, energy, water, housing and more will lose funding by the end of this week. 

Congressional leaders have already agreed on a spending deal for over $1 trillion this year, but there’s not enough time for lawmakers to approve the deal before the shutdown deadline arrives. Some Republicans are pushing for a shutdown until their concerns about border policy are met. 

To learn more, the Standard spoke with Sean Theriault, a professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Are we feeling a little déjà vu here? Isn’t this the same impasse that led to the ouster of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last year? 

Sean Theriault: Oh, here we go again. It is. It’s the same dynamics that are in place. The only question is whether or not the new speaker has a little bit more latitude with that far right part of his party. 

That’s the question, isn’t it? There have been reports that House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have been involved in trying to get some sort of agreement on spending levels for appropriations bills. Do you think that there is a greater resolve to try to work with Democrats this go around compared to what happened back in the fall? 

What’s interesting is that Speaker Johnson now has the responsibility of governing. So, what you see him doing is recognizing that Republicans have a tiny majority in the House, but Democrats are still in control of both the Senate and the White House. What he’s trying to do is cobble together a coalition that can get a bipartisan deal through the House. 

Whether or not that far right plank of the Republican Party gives him that latitude… He could certainly get the votes, but the question then becomes whether or not they’re going to challenge him for the speakership after he passes this bill. 

Let’s talk a little bit about what it is that Congress actually plans to vote on this week. Just how does it address these concerns about the government shutdown? Does it sort of kick the can down the road to come up with a final budget, or are we talking about the actual budget here? 

What normally happens is that Congress passes 13 separate bills that fund the government. They’ve been going very slow at that. There are some compromises over in the House and in the Senate, but not between the two chambers. 

What they’re doing is pushing the ball down the field until March 1 and March 8, to see if they can’t get some of those individual appropriation bills resolved before they actually fund the government through the end of the year. 

What’s your sense of the likelihood of all this playing out as it should and that we avoid a government shutdown this go around? 

My suspicion is that the Senate is going to go first. The Senate can always throw up roadblocks and things like that. The long game of that is that it could play out into the weekend, which of course pushes us past that Friday deadline. So, my suspicion is there could be a slight two or three-day shutdown. 

My sense is that the cooler heads will prevail in the Senate. They’ll get this bill passed by mid-week, maybe into Thursday. Then, the speaker will try this thing through suspension of the rules, where he needs two thirds of the members of the House to support it.

My sense is that it could get wrapped up by Friday, which would avoid the shutdown. Of course, that just gets them to the beginning of March. 

Are you concerned about repercussions here, even if it is a brief shutdown? 

Well, it’s interesting, right? There have already been some Republicans on the far right who have threatened that if the speaker goes forward with this, then they’re going to challenge the speakership.

Still, so many Republicans have that memory in their mind of all of those votes – both for Speaker McCarthy to get it at the beginning of the Congress, and then once he was kicked out of the job, all those votes that it took to get his replacement. The margin is very small. I think it’s going to be one of those touch-and-go kind of moments. 

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