It’s the Tuesday before the Saturday when government funding expires, and the Senate is preparing to jump into the fray to give House Speaker Kevin McCarthy every opportunity to save the day. The lines of communication between the bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate—the “four corners”—were open through the long weekend, Roll Call reports, with “quiet staff-level talks” on a stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution. The negotiating was primarily between Senate leadership, Roll Call’s sources said, but the House was kept apprised of the talks.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate will take its first procedural vote on the bill they are using as a vehicle for their continuing resolution. Luckily, the House had managed to pass one big bill—the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration—earlier in the year, and the Senate is going to use it. Funding bills have to originate in the House, so they dodged a procedural bullet there.
The Senate leadership is trying to make sure the government doesn’t shut down, but it’s also trying to give McCarthy whatever protection it can by crafting a short-term funding bill that a majority of his conference can accept. It looks like that means it will be pretty short—four to six weeks—and “clean.” Because the Senate has to act fast, and because Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul can derail that, aid to Ukraine will probably be minimal or not included at all. Paul threatened last week to block new aid, and the Senate will have to have all 100 senators on board to move the bill quickly enough to avoid a shutdown.
The bill also might not include additional supplemental disaster relief appropriations, because Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott has been raising hell about that: He wants a separate vote on his own stand-alone bill for that funding. The disaster relief should pass pretty easily in both chambers in the coming weeks. What Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are looking to do now is to give the House and Senate some breathing room to get that stuff worked out while the government stays open.
It might, however, include extensions for some of the programs that expire along with government funding on Sept. 30. That includes avoiding cuts to funding for community health centers and extending the FAA’s authorization, the National Flood Insurance Program, and cash assistance for low-income families under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. They could also include an extension of a pay bump they provided to wildland firefighters in 2021, which is set to expire this week. Without that pay increase, the National Federation of Federal Employees warns, firefighters will quit in droves.
Assuming the Senate gets a clean bill passed and sent over to the House by Thursday or Friday, then McCarthy has some big decisions to make. He can take this gift from the Senate, accept some help from Democrats, and keep the government open. Doing that also helps the majority of his own conference.
But it could mean that his leadership is challenged. In fact, it’s almost certain that Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida chaos agent who has seemingly been running the place for the last week or so, will drop his motion to vacate the chair in response. That’s what he’s been threatening for weeks, anyway, and others in the extremist bloc have joined in.
McCarthy has talked tough about that, daring them to do it in an F-bomb-filled tirade a few weeks ago. He also has maintained that a government shutdown would be disastrous for everyone. “You have to keep the government open. If people want to close the government, it only makes them weaker,” he said Monday. “Why would they want to stop paying the troops or stop paying the border agents or the Coast Guard? I don’t understand how that makes you stronger. I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make.”
The ball will likely be in McCarthy’s court by Friday. He can force that question then.
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