Shutdown threat meter: Yellow. Congress’ final funding deal is going down to the wire.

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Top lawmakers and the White House have finally reached a deal to close out the government funding fight that began more than a year ago, when Kevin McCarthy first took the speakership.

But it’s already too late to guarantee the monumental bipartisan agreement isn’t punctuated by a brief government shutdown. In the parlance of the George W. Bush administration’s terrorism risk alerts, the threat of a closure is firmly in the yellow zone.

Whether funding will lapse early Saturday morning for the Pentagon and key non-defense agencies is largely up to Speaker Mike Johnson, who will have to decide this week between three choices: Bend House rules to speed up passage, embrace a short funding patch to buy more time — or let federal cash stop flowing to most federal programs for a few days.

The speaker has not yet said whether he’ll stick to a pledge giving his members 72 hours to review the legislation, a move that would ratchet up the chances of Congress blowing past its deadline since that text is still being drafted.

Asked Tuesday about adhering to the 72-hour promise, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said, “That’s up to the speaker.”

Even if Johnson calls a House passage vote before the Saturday morning deadline, the government funding plan could still stall in the Senate, where leaders will need the agreement of all 100 members to fast-track debate. That process is already guaranteed to be politically tricky, with Republican senators eager to request amendment votes on issues ranging from immigration to earmarks.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor Tuesday that he’s “hopeful we can finish the appropriations process without causing a lapse in government services.”

“We haven’t had a government shutdown since 2019. There’s no good reason for us to have one this week now that we’re getting very close to finishing the job,” he said.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) likened passage of the six-bill funding package to “legislative tyranny,” with no time to review a package that “will be considerably more than 1,000 pages long and contain hundreds of earmarks.”

“We now can’t expect to see the spending bill until Wednesday,” Lee complained, “even though” congressional leaders expect it to clear the Senate by Friday night.

A shutdown would last less than a week and would likely cause minimal disruption to most federal agencies, but both sides acknowledge that it wouldn’t look good to voters. The Biden administration could even tell departments to hold off on deploying shutdown procedures, if the bill is quickly headed for President Joe Biden’s desk.

Each president has the power to lessen, or escalate, the severity of a government shutdown. In 2019, when funding lapsed for many federal agencies for 35 days, then-President Donald Trump tried to downplay the effects of the shutdown as he worked to convince Democrats to fund the border wall. In 2013, then-President Barack Obama ensured maximum disruption to federal programs as he waited for House Republicans to cave on demands for fiscal reforms and axing Obamacare.

This time, it behooves Biden to direct federal agencies to carry out as much of their duties as possible without funding coming in.

A decision by Johnson to observe the 72-hour pledge would do little to quell the already-swirling Republican angst over the spending package that’s now expected to be released late Tuesday or sometime Wednesday. Conservatives are complaining that the six-bill funding bundle was largely negotiated behind closed doors and will ultimately get dropped on lawmakers at the last minute, despite party leaders’ long-running promises to avoid this outcome.

Some Republicans are blaming the White House for the delay, noting that the Biden administration jumped in over the weekend and rejected a fallback plan that would have saddled the Department of Homeland Security with a flat budget through the rest of the fiscal year. White House officials insisted that a year-long stopgap would have been detrimental to border security efforts ahead of an anticipated spring migration surge.

Johnson successfully split a dozen annual appropriations bills into two packages for the current fiscal year, pushing to avoid a dreaded “omnibus,” the Hill terminology for the bundling of 12 measures to maximize efficiency and minimize political risk.

But that’s done little to appease Johnson’s right flank, who are lamenting the same old behind-the-scenes negotiating, with much of the decision-making clustered at the leadership level.

Aggressive fiscal hawk Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said Congress is back in “swamp mode, where the omnibus is written behind closed doors.”

“Members are told to take it or leave it, and although Republicans control the House, more Democrats vote for it than Republicans because it spends more money than when [Nancy] Pelosi was in charge,” Massie posted on X.

Besides the Pentagon and DHS, funding is set to lapse Saturday morning for the departments of State, Labor, Education and Treasury, along with the IRS and foreign operations. A shutdown would also hit federal housing and health programs, as well as congressional operations.

Jordain Carney contributed to this report. 



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