Shutdown deadline fast approaching as Congress struggles to lock in deal
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Shutdown deadline fast approaching as Congress struggles to lock in deal

Lawmakers are pushing the federal government to the brink of a shutdown as they struggle to finalize a stopgap measure before funding runs out Friday at midnight.

The failure of congressional leaders to lock in a deal by now means that the only way to avoid a shutdown is for all 100 senators to agree to schedule a vote before the deadline. While lawmakers are confident they can ultimately prevent a shutdown, there are still sticking points to sort out as they scramble to finalize a funding agreement.

Democrats and Republicans are grappling with how to overcome disagreements over how long a funding extension should last. Negotiators are also being confronted by a separate demand from Senate conservatives for a vote to defund the vaccine mandate that threatens to stall a quick vote in the chamber. As of Wednesday morning, a stopgap measure has not yet been finalized or publicly released.

It is not yet clear when a deal will be reached and when the House and Senate will vote.

GOP sources still don’t believe there will be a government shutdown, but any one senator can object to a quick vote to keep the government open before the Friday deadline, and if one does, there could be a brief shutdown through the weekend until Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer outlined the challenge facing leadership on Wednesday. “Every member can get up and say I want a shutdown unless I get my way on something,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It’s up to the leaders to make sure there’s not a shutdown. I’m making sure and I think Leader McConnell wants to try to make sure too. Let’s hope.”

Asked for an update Wednesday afternoon on the effort to reach a deal, Schumer said, “we’re talking, we’re making good progress.”

McConnell vowed on Tuesday that there wouldn’t be a shutdown, and for now most expect there won’t be, and they’ll ultimately reach a deal to give conservatives a vote on a vaccine mandate amendment, which would likely fail.

In a sign of stalled progress to lock in votes, however, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a closed-door meeting of House Democrats this morning that as of now, Democrats will not vote for a stop-gap bill on Wednesday because McConnell will not agree to a date, according to a member in the room.

That comes after Hoyer indicated a day earlier that he had hoped to bring a bill to the floor today.

Congress is up against a government funding deadline lawmakers set for themselves earlier this year when both chambers passed a bill to extend funding through December 3. President Joe Biden signed that measure into law at the end of September.

Later in the day on Tuesday, Hoyer blamed the Senate for the hold up, saying, “We’re waiting for the Senate to decide what date they can agree on, which is ridiculous.”

“The government is going to shut down in 72 hours and they can’t get their act together,” he said.

McConnell predicted earlier on Tuesday that the government will not shut down.

“We won’t shut down,” McConnell told reporters, saying that Republicans are still engaged in discussions over how to structure a stopgap funding measure to avert a shutdown.

“I think we’ll get there and certainly nobody should be concerned about a government shutdown,” he said.

Government funding is only one of several time-sensitive policy issues that lawmakers must deal with in the coming weeks. There is also a looming debt limit deadline on December 15.

It is not yet clear how that issue will be resolved, but McConnell said on Tuesday that he believes there will not be a default and that he has been discussing a path forward with Schumer.

“First, let me assure everyone, the government will not default, as it never has. Second, the majority leader and I have been having discussions about the way forward,” he said.

When the US government is within seven days of a potential shutdown, no matter the circumstances or state of play in funding negotiations, the Office of Management and Budget begins its standard shutdown planning protocol, reminding government agencies of the steps they should prepare to take. That protocol is in effect.

There is a plan in place for every government department and agency, all of which are laid out in significant detail on the OMB’s website.

Those plans include information on how many employees would get furloughed, what employees are essential and would work without pay (for example, air traffic controllers, Secret Service agents, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory staff), how long it would take to wind down operations in the hours before a shutdown, and what activities would come to a halt.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Wednesday.

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