If an agreement isn’t made before midnight on Saturday, the lives of millions of American citizens could be significantly affected.
The US is on the brink of a federal government shutdown after hard-right Republicans in Congress rejected a longshot effort to keep offices open.
The move comes as they fight for steep spending cuts and strict border security measures that Democrats and the White House say are too extreme.
Come midnight on Saturday, if there is no deal in place, federal workers will face furloughs, more than 2 million active duty and reserve military troops will work without pay and programmes and services which countless Americans rely on will begin to face shutdown disruptions.
The Senate is set to hold a rare Saturday session to advance its own bipartisan package that is supported by Democrats and Republicans and would fund the government for the short-term, up until 17 November.
Even if the Senate can rush to wrap up its work this weekend to pass the bill – which also includes money for Ukraine aid and US disaster assistance – it won’t prevent an almost certain shutdown amid the chaos in the House.
On Friday, a massive hard-right revolt left Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s latest plan to collapse.
“Congress has only one option to avoid a shutdown – bipartisanship,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell echoed that sentiment, warning his own hard-right colleagues there is nothing to gain by shutting down the federal government.
“It heaps unnecessary hardships on the American people, as well as the brave men and women who keep us safe,” McConnell said.
Despite this rhetoric, the federal government is heading straight into a shutdown that poses grave uncertainty for federal workers in states all across America and the people who depend on them – from troops to border control agents to office workers and scientists.
Families which rely on Head Start for children, food benefits and countless other programs large and small are confronting potential interruptions or outright closures. At the airports, Transportation Security Administration officers and air traffic controllers are expected to work without pay, but travellers could face delays in updating their US passports or other travel documents.
Congress has so far been unable to fund the federal agencies or pass a temporary bill in time to keep offices open for the start of the new fiscal year.
It’s down, in large part, to the fact that McCarthy has faced insurmountable resistance from right-flank Republicans who are refusing to run government as usual.
McCarthy’s last-ditch plan to keep the federal government temporarily open collapsed in dramatic fashion Friday as a robust faction of 21 hard-right holdouts opposed the package.
Despite the package’s proposed steep spending cuts of nearly 30% to many agencies and severe border security provisions, they called it insufficient.
The White House and Democrats rejected the Republican approach as too extreme, with the Democrats voting against it.
The House bill’s failure a day before Saturday’s deadline to fund the government leaves few options to prevent a shutdown.
“It’s not the end yet; I’ve got other ideas,” a clearly agitated McCarthy told reporters as he exited the chamber – but none have yet come to fruition.
Later on Friday, after a heated closed-door meeting of House Republicans that pushed into the evening, McCarthy said he was considering options.
Among them, there is the suggestion of a two-week stopgap funding measure similar to the effort from hard-right senators that would be certain to exclude any help for Ukraine in the war against Russia.
Even though the House bill has already axed routine Ukraine aid, an intensifying Republican resistance to the war effort means the Senate’s plan to attach $6 billion (about €5.6bn) to the funds President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seeking from the US may have bipartisan support from Democrats – but not from most of McCarthy’s Republicans.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is working to stop the Ukraine funds in the Senate package entirely.
“We continue to work through trying to find out of this,” McCarthy told reporters. “There are no winners in a government shutdown and I think that’s the best way forward, make sure the government does not shut down.”
The White House has brushed aside McCarthy’s overtures to meet with President Joe Biden after the speaker walked away from the debt deal they brokered earlier this year that set budget levels.
On Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre urged agreement between factions, saying: “The path forward to fund the government has been laid out by the Senate with bipartisan support – House Republicans just need to take it.”
Catering to his hard-right flank, McCarthy had returned to the spending limits the conservatives demanded back in January as part of the deal-making to help him become the House speaker.
The House package would not have cut the Defence, Veterans or Homeland Security departments but would have slashed almost all other agencies by up to 30% – steep hits to a vast array of programs, services and departments Americans routinely depend on.
It also added strict new border security provisions which would kick start building the hugely contentious wall at the southern border with Mexico, among other measures. Additionally, the package would have set up a bipartisan debt commission to address the nation’s mounting debt load.
As soon as the floor debate began, McCarthy’s chief Republican critic, Matt Gaetz of Florida, announced he would vote against the package, urging his colleagues to “not surrender”.
Gaetz added that the speaker’s bill “went down in flames as I’ve told you all week it would.”
He and others rejecting the temporary measure want the House to keep pushing through the 12 individual spending bills needed to fund the government, typically a weeks-long process, as they pursue their conservative priorities.
Republican leaders announced later on Friday that the House would stay in session next week, rather than return home, to keep working on some of the 12 spending bills.
Some of the Republican holdouts, including Gaetz, are allies of Donald Trump, who remains as President Biden’s chief rival in 2024. The former president has been encouraging the Republicans to fight hard for their priorities and even to “shut it down.”
The hard right, led by Gaetz, has been threatening McCarthy’s ouster, with a looming vote to try to remove him from the speaker’s office unless he meets the conservative demands.
It’s still unclear, though, if any other Republican would have support from the House majority to lead the party.
Late on Friday, Trump turned his ire to McConnell on social media, complaining that the Republican leader and other GOP senators are “weak and ineffective” and making compromises with Democrats. He urged them, “Don’t do it!”
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