WASHINGTON -- The White House prepared Friday to direct federal agencies to get ready for a shutdown after House Republicans left town for the weekend with no viable plan to keep the government funded and avert politically and economically costly disruption of federal services.
A federal shutdown after Sept. 30 seems likely unless Speaker Kevin McCarthy can persuade his rebellious hard-right flank of Republicans to allow Congress to approve a temporary funding measure to prevent closures as talks continue. Instead, he's launched a much more ambitious plan to try to start passing multiple funding bills once the House returns Tuesday, with just five days to resolve the standoff.
"We've got members working, and hopefully we'll be able to move forward on Tuesday to pass these bills," McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters at the Capitol.
If there is enough progress on the individual funding bills to satisfy the demands of the holdouts, Republicans could resume discussions on how to keep the government open in the short term.
"I came up here to be responsible. We're gonna be responsible," said Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., who is part of a group that would block a short-term funding bill and is demanding the passage of a budget and individual funding bills. "I'm going to hold firm."
The standoff with House Republicans over government funding puts at risk a range of activities -- including pay for the military and law enforcement personnel, food safety and food aid programs, air travel and passport processing -- and could wreak havoc on the U.S. economy.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday that if federal workers go unpaid it would be Republicans' fault. "Our message is: This doesn't have to happen," she said. "They can do their job and keep these vital programs continuing, keeping the government open."
With the Oct. 1 start of a new fiscal year and no funding in place, the Biden administration's Office of Management and Budget is preparing to advise federal agencies to review and update their shutdown plans, according to an agency official. The start of this process suggests that federal employees could be informed next week if they're to be furloughed.
'AT IT AGAIN'
President Joe Biden has been quick to blame the likely shutdown on House Republicans, who are intent on spending cuts beyond those laid out in a June deal that also suspended the legal cap on the government borrowing's authority until early 2025.
"They're back at it again, breaking their commitment, threatening more cuts and threatening to shut down government again," Biden said during a recent speech in suburban Maryland.
McCarthy faces immense pressure for severe spending cuts from a handful of hard-right conservatives in his caucus, essentially halting his ability to lead the chamber. Many on the right flank are aligned with Donald Trump -- the Republican front-runner to challenge Biden in the 2024 election. They opposed the budget deal the speaker reached with Biden earlier this year and are trying to dismantle it.
Trump has urged the House Republicans on, pushing them to hold the line against federal spending.
Led by Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., the right flank has all but commandeered control of the House debate in a public rebuke to the speaker.
Late Thursday, the hard-right faction pushed McCarthy to consider their idea to shelve plans for a stopgap funding measure, called a continuing resolution or CR, and instead start bringing up the 12 individual bills needed to fund the government.
The House GOP leadership then announced just that -- it would begin processing a package of four bills to fund Defense, Homeland Security, State and Foreign Operations and Agricultural departments, setting up voting for Tuesday when lawmakers return. Work on some bills had been held up by the same conservatives demanding passage now.
"Any progress we are making is in spite of, not due to McCarthy," Gaetz posted on social media, deriding the speaker for having sent lawmakers home for the weekend. "Pathetic."
The House Rules Committee held a Friday afternoon session to begin preparing those bills, which historically require weeks of floor debate, with hundreds of amendments, but now are scheduled to be rushed to the floor for next week's votes. The panel was expected to wrap up its work today.
It's a capstone to a difficult week for McCarthy who tried, unsuccessfully, to advance a typically popular defense spending bill that was twice defeated in floor votes. The speaker seemed to blame the defeat of the bill on fellow lawmakers "who just want to burn the whole place down."
"Obviously, the timetable is very short," said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. "And you know, getting stuff out of the House and then getting agreement in the Senate and so forth doesn't seem highly likely. But there's a number of options that are out there."
The Senate has been preparing to have to move first on a short-term funding plan should the House fail to act. Senators have a continuing resolution bill written, according to two people familiar with the internal workings of the chamber, but it's not clear if or when that bill would move.
The Senate had been waiting on the House to move first to avoid any parliamentary challenges since spending bills are constitutionally required to originate in the House.
Shutdowns happen when Congress and the president fail to complete a set of 12 spending bills, or fail to approve a temporary measure to keep the government operating. As a result, federal agencies are required to stop all actions deemed nonessential. Since 1976, there have been 22 funding gaps, with 10 of them leading to workers being furloughed.
McCarthy may need to relent on his insistence to pass funding measures with only Republican votes, a demand made by many in the far-right House Freedom Caucus who say they will introduce a motion to remove him from the speakership if he relies on Democrats to pass legislation. With only a four-vote margin, House Republicans have been -- and will continue to be -- tested throughout the fiscal fight.
Thursday's failed vote came after an almost three-hour meeting Wednesday that focused both on long-term spending bills and the more immediate task of avoiding a government shutdown after Sept. 30. During the closed meeting, a majority of the House Republican conference found consensus around more than $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending for the upcoming fiscal year, a demand hard-liners wanted before voting on the Defense Department funding bill. And while they reported progress on a bill to keep the government open in the short term after moderate New York lawmakers insisted on such a trade-off, a plan to avoid a shutdown was not finalized because holdouts remained.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, who flew back to Washington this week after missing votes following the birth of his first child, suggested that the group of far-right renegades won't explain their opposition to legislation and appear to coordinate on who will vote no to block McCarthy.
"There's varying explanations. None of them make a lot of sense," Crenshaw told reporters, adding some opposition might have been meant as a slight to Zelenskyy as he visited the Capitol and some could have been just to hurt McCarthy.
"It switches in both directions, so, just like, who knows. ... There's probably some personal animosity there," he said.
Lawmakers familiar with several possible pathways to avert a shutdown -- including another deal that could be struck between the Republican Governance Group and New Democrat Coalition -- initially said that any compromise with Democrats would be a worst-case scenario for Republicans, but that has started to change. On Wednesday, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus put forth their proposal which would fund the government until January so that the House can pass appropriation bills funding the government at the level approved during the fiscal fight by McCarthy and Biden.
"With divided control of Congress, solutions to issues as critical as funding the federal government demand a two-party solution, with compromises agreed to by both sides," said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., a moderate who chairs the bipartisan caucus. "I hope that our colleagues will consider our bipartisan framework."
Information for this article was contributed by Josh Boak, Stephen Groves and Lisa Mascaro of The Associated Press; and by Marianna Sotomayor, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Paul Kane and Mariana Alfaro of The Washington Post.