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Congress tries to avoid a shutdown—again

Chad Pergram shares his analysis on last week's congressional blunder: Congress could not work together to pass four spending bills and failed to advert a partial government shutdown.

Congress couldn’t quite get its act together to pass four spending bills and avert a partial government shutdown last week.

So it tries again this week.

But here’s the catch.

Only in Congress-logic would you add two bills to the mix and give yourself one less day to complete everything.

Lawmakers must now approve six spending packages before Friday. But neither the House nor Senate return to session until Tuesday night. 

So, here we go again.


"Watching House Republicans is like watching a football team whose best play is the punt and block," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. "We blocked the (Senate Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell, R-Ky., supplemental. But we punt yet again on needed spending cuts." 

That said, there is brimming optimism among bipartisan House and Senate leaders that Congress will avoid a shutdown early Saturday morning. The sides released a universal plan over the weekend to lump together funding bills for Military Construction/Veterans Affairs, Transportation/Housing, Agriculture, Energy & Water – plus two new bills: a measure to fund Commerce, Justice and Science programs, plus Interior. 

The plan is for the House to advance this package on Wednesday. The Senate on Thursday or Friday – just under the wire before the 11:59:59 pm et deadline.

These bills represent less than a third of all government funding. The bigger problem emerges on March 22. That’s when the rest of the spending bills come due. And the calisthenics required to pass those bills is expected to be exponentially more challenging.

First of all, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., long pledged that he wouldn’t support any more Band-Aid spending bills. Congress has now approved four interim spending measures to prevent government shutdowns since fall. Johnson has presided over three of them. Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pushed through the initial one at the end of last September. Just doing that interim spending bill last autumn is exactly what cost McCarthy his job. 

Yet Johnson is still here with nary a challenge to his leadership.

Make sense?

Not really. But this is where we are.  

Johnson found himself on the defensive several days ago when he and other leaders announced the latest punt. Some angry Republicans say they found out about the latest mulligan via Twitter or X. But Johnson called the fourth stopgap bill a "process CR." That’s short for "Continuing Resolution," an emergency bill which simply renews all funding at current levels to avoid a shutdown. But no one had ever heard the term "process CR" before Johnson deployed it.

Johnson said that Republicans would have "72 hours to review" the tranche of six bills which they welded together. That’s true. But the House voted in the early afternoon Thursday to simply re-up the old funding – even though that bill had not been posted for three days. House Republicans usually insist they have a three-day grace period before voting on a bill. But Johnson ditched that provision – although one could argue there wasn’t much to read since it simply greenlighted the old funding.

But a CR is a CR is a CR.

It’s still parliamentary putty.

Johnson swore he wouldn’t tangle with interim bills again.

Hence the new term a "process CR."

"We have continued with the CRs and the same policies that I voted against on September 30, the last act of the previous Speaker," complained Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. "I've described it as a failure. I think it was another terrible decision."


The House voted to avert a shutdown 320-99 Thursday afternoon. But as has become de rigueur in the Republican-controlled House, way more Democrats supported the plan than GOPers. 207 Democrats voted yes. Only 113 Republicans voted yea. That’s a delta of 94 votes. Ninety-seven Republicans voted no. Only two Democrats voted nay. 

Johnson was prescient earlier in the day about putting yet another CR on the floor.

"The appropriations process is ugly. Democracy is ugly," said Johnson. "It’s been a long road to get here." 

Johnson’s homily failed to move Good.

"I actually had a Democrat member tell me this morning ‘We like it when you're in charge because nothing changes, but you guys get all the blame,’" said Good.

But some Republicans argued this was all they could do, considering their meager 219-213 majority.

"The American people gave us a slim majority in the House," said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., who chairs the Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee. "This negotiation has been difficult. But to close the government down at a time like this would hurt people who should not be hurt."

There were a myriad of reasons why Republicans might oppose the bridge spending bill. There was just the fact that it wasn’t a new bill. Others noted that it reauthorized spending approved when former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wielded the gavel and recognized many of her spending priorities. And then there was the southern border.

"Any continuing resolution has got to have border control," said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. "So if you’re so scared to shut the government down, and won’t take a risk on shutting the border down, there is a problem."


Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., joined Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass., as the only two Democrats to oppose the most recent CR. Quigley says he’s opposing CRs until lawmakers pass a bill to aid Ukraine. 

"There’s no other way for me to draw attention (to Ukraine) other than to travel there," said Quigley.  

And so over the weekend, the six-bill combo measure for this week hit the in-boxes of lawmakers. The House will consider all of those bills together at once. House Republicans have been loathe to pass anything characterized as an "omnibus." That’s where Congressional leaders glue all 12 appropriations bills together. Six bills is conceivably a "mini-bus" – although some conservatives may quibble with that. 

Johnson continues to say that the House has broken the "omnibus fever."

Just for the record, there’s no clear definition in Congress as to what constitutes an "omnibus" bill or a "minibus" bill. However, it’s generally understood that all 12 bills latched together is an "omnibus." Anything less is probably a "minibus."

Still, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., saw the punt coming last week. He anticipated Congressional leaders dumping the bill on the floor as one massive bill.

"This is the old way of doing business where the leadership gets behind closed doors, disappears for a few weeks with something and says ‘take it or leave it,’" said Massie. "There are no amendments. There’s no changing it. And I think we need to reject that notion."


What we haven’t mentioned yet is the SECOND slab of the remaining six spending bills due March 22. Those include more nettlesome, controversial policy areas. Defense. Homeland Security. And Labor/Health and Human Services. The latter two can be particularly tricky. That’s because the border is a major issue. So too is abortion and the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling on IVF and embryos.

Congress may finally actually pass bills to fund the government this week. But the bigger test looms later this month. And all bets may be off for both Johnson – and the chances of a government shutdown – if lawmakers stumble with the next round of funding.

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