Congress makes moves to avoid impending shutdown
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Congress was racing against the clock and the weather today to pass a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHUCK SCHUMER: We have good news for America. There will not be a shutdown on Friday. Because both sides have worked together, the government will stay open. Services will not be disrupted. We will avoid a needless disaster.
SUMMERS: Both chambers passed the measure ahead of a winter storm headed for Washington, D.C., but there could still be a political storm ahead for House speaker Mike Johnson. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales has been covering all of this. Hi, Claudia.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.
SUMMERS: So Claudia, walk us through this new temporary funding measure. What exactly does it do?
GRISALES: So it takes two government shutdown deadlines - one for tomorrow, another in February - and moves those two dates forward several weeks to early March - March 1 and 8, to be exact. And this comes after congressional leaders reached a bipartisan agreement for a top-line figure for a permanent yearlong spending plan - that is, how much they'll spend overall for the fiscal 2024 year. So this is part of an effort to buy Congress time to hammer out a dozen regular appropriation spending plans to fully fund the government.
SUMMERS: OK. And Claudia, why does it matter if Congress gets these longer-term bills done?
GRISALES: Now, there is a catch here in terms of getting these done. There is yet another deadline approaching later this year. And that is, if Congress does not approve a permanent plan by April, automatic spending cuts will be triggered under a deal struck to lift the debt limit last year. And we should keep in mind the fiscal year ends in September, so this is not even buying Congress a lot of time.
SUMMERS: Right. I am very familiar with Congress flirting with these deadlines.
SUMMERS: I mean, Congress has been playing this temporary funding game for months and struggling to reach a full-year funding deal.
SUMMERS: Give us some hope. Why is this time going to be different?
GRISALES: Right. That is the big question here. And, as you mentioned, Congress is already months behind. And while they have this framework agreement, they're still a long ways away. It's not even clear that House Republicans will be on board. The hard-right wing of the conference has a history of voting against spending measures, and this time they think Johnson has gone too far. So it's unclear what kind of maneuvers they'll employ to show their displeasure with the speaker, especially as he has to keep undergoing these tests on the House floor of spending - of passing these spending bills with Democrats' help because of his very narrow majority.
SUMMERS: Right. And we should remind folks that Johnson was elected speaker just under three months ago, and he keeps facing opposition from these hard-right conservatives on these spending negotiations. How can he survive this?
GRISALES: Well, that's another big question looming over the Capitol. As we know, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted for this last year - striking deals between his moderate wing and Democrats to keep the government open and also avoid financial calamity with the debt limit deal last year. This week, I talked to the head of this hard-right conservative group, the House Freedom Caucus. This is Bob Good of Virginia, and he was coy when I asked them what tactics they could employ. Good said, however, that the media are the only ones talking about this extreme response of ousting Johnson. But to be clear, there are members who have said publicly that it's a move they have not ruled out.
SUMMERS: And yet, Claudia - and yet, there is also talk of Congress still trying to tackle a bipartisan supplemental spending plan for aid to Ukraine and Israel while also addressing the U.S.-Mexico border. Is that realistic?
GRISALES: We don't know. That's going to be one of many tests facing Johnson. He's truly the wild card here in whether any bipartisan deal can ultimately get through Congress.
SUMMERS: NPR's Claudia Grisales, thank you.
GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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