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Congress has 11 days to avoid shutdown as House GOP meets to plot strategy

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Congress has 11 days to avoid shutdown as House GOP meets to plot strategy

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House Republicans will meet behind closed doors Tuesday morning as lawmakers run out of time to prevent a government shutdown that is set to begin next week.

With just 11 days until funding laws for the federal government expire, Congress appears nowhere near a deal, and the legislative intentions of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) — a newcomer who has never chaired a congressional committee — remain unclear. The imminent funding deadline adds to a to-do list on Capitol Hill that includes emergency aid to Israel and Ukraine, which also have no obvious path to passage amid fierce disputes among lawmakers. The government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 18 if there is no action.

A shutdown would affect a wide array of federal services and the government’s roughly 2 million civilian and military employees.

The House last week approved a $14 billion aid package for Israel, along with two of the 12 bills necessary to fund the government. (The House has passed seven of the 12 so far.) But the House’s Israel funding bill is a nonstarter in the Senate and White House because it included cuts to the Internal Revenue Service that Democrats staunchly oppose. The bills to fund different parts of the federal government, passed mostly by Republicans alone, also have no prospect of passing the Senate.

U.S. braces for costly government shutdown

The Senate, meanwhile, approved on a bipartisan basis three of the 12 bills necessary to fund the government, and may vote on several more as soon as this week. But the upper chamber also has yet to advance aid to Israel, and it remains unclear what Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) will try to pass as a rejoinder to the House-passed bill. Senate Republicans also released a set of proposed immigration reforms, hoping to attach that effort to a broader plan that provides aid to Israel and Ukraine, among other domestic priorities.

The biggest question mark in the legislative maneuvering is Johnson, who is trying to avoid the fate that befell the last House speaker who faced a government shutdown deadline. Former House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted after cutting a deal with Democrats to fund the government until mid-November, and it’s not clear that Johnson will have much more room to work across the aisle than his predecessor. Johnson has suggested he might back a bill to fund the government through January, which would give appropriators more time to work. But he has also floated a “laddered” approach to federal funding, putting up the money right away to keep every agency open, then staggering end dates for each stream of money.

That approach was proposed by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), a fiscal hawk on the House Appropriations Committee. It has “intrigued” lawmakers, according to GOP aides, with its design to incentivize the Senate to negotiate with the House by sunsetting funding, and to provide political cover to House Republicans who steadfastly oppose temporary government funding bills.

“It almost in some ways forces the issue, to have 12 individual appropriations conversations, because you don’t have one day where everything’s going bankrupt, you’ve got a day where [the Transportation Department] is going bankrupt, or a day [the Defense Department] is going bankrupt,” said Richard Stern, who studies federal budget policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Such a strategy is almost certain to fail in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where even Republicans are far less hawkish on federal spending.

A former House backbencher who primarily focused on social issues up to now, Johnson hasn’t yet given many clues about his approach to funding the government. He has shown some sides of moderation — softening his opposition to providing funding for Ukraine, for example — but also surprised centrists by tying Israel aid to the IRS cuts.

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“Washington is still really trying to figure him out: What are his priorities, how does he work, what types of relationships does he want to form?,” one outside adviser to House and Senate Republicans said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be more candid about the new GOP leader. “The guy is such a black box.”

A standoff that leads the government to close could become painful quickly.

In September, with the government on the brink of a shutdown that Congress narrowly averted, the IRS said roughly two-thirds of its workforce would be sent home, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development told workers it would eventually be forced to furlough 82 percent of its staff.

A protracted shutdown could lead other urgent federal functions to lapse, including inspections at airports, disaster relief and immigration enforcement.

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