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McCarthy is running out of options to stop a shutdown as conservatives balk at a new plan

The House Speaker told his Republican conference that they should be prepared to stay through this weekend to pass a stopgap measure to keep government offices open past the Sept. 30 deadline. But many are bracing for a shutdown

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks with reporters after opening the House floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on September 18, 2023.EVELYN HOCKSTEIN (REUTERS)

Speaker Kevin McCarthy is running out of options as he races Monday to come up with a plan to keep the federal government from shutting down, as even a proposal to include hardline border security provisions wasn’t enough to appease the far-right flank in his Republican House majority.

The speaker told his Republican conference that they should be prepared to stay through this weekend to pass a stopgap measure, called a continuing resolution, that would keep government offices open past the Sept. 30 deadline. But many are already bracing for the heavy political fallout of a federal shutdown.

“I’ve told all of Congress you’re not going to go home. We’re going to continue to work through this,” McCarthy said Monday at the Capitol. “Things that are tough sometimes are worth it.”

He also suggested that time is still on his side and panned the idea of compromising with Democrats as he tries to pass the annual spending measures on his own, saying there were “a lot of good ideas” still coming from Republicans.

“This isn’t the 30th — we’ve got a long ways to go,” he said.

House Republicans pitched a Thursday vote on passing a one-month funding bill that was negotiated between the hard-right House Freedom Caucus and a group of pragmatic-minded conservatives known as the Main Street Caucus, according to those with knowledge of the call.

McCarthy called the package a “bottom-up” approach, and it was intended to win support from the conservative wing of the Republican Conference by including a 1% cut to last year’s spending levels as well as a slew of Republican proposals for border security and immigration. In order to protect Republican spending priorities for defense, veteran and disaster relief, it cuts other spending by over 8%.

With the Senate controlled by Democrats unlikely to accept any of the conservative options, the best hope McCarthy has at this point is to simply pass a measure to kickstart debate with the other chamber. But even that route is uncertain, with time dwindling to strike a deal.

McCarthy planned to hold a vote on a Department of Defense spending bill on Wednesday, then the stopgap funding measure the next day.

“There’s quite a few people that are against it right now,” said Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., leader of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative faction in the House, adding that he was still considering the proposal and that a lot of work was happening “behind the scenes” to get the votes to pass it.

Leaders of the so-called “five families” — the various conservative factions that make up the House Republican majority – are expected to convene later Monday behind closed doors in the speaker’s office.

It’s crucial that they find an agreed-upon path forward for McCarthy, who is staring down just eight working days in session before funding runs out.

“This framework secures the border and it keeps the government open. Republicans need to focus on those things,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., who is chair of the Mainstreet Caucus and helped craft the proposal.

Time is running short for Congress to act. Though McCarthy still contends he has time to maneuver before the government’s fiscal year ends, he has also tried to warn his party that a government shutdown is likely to backfire on Republicans politically.

“I’ve been through shutdowns, and I’ve never seen somebody win a shutdown because when you shut down, you give all your power to the administration,” McCarthy said in a Fox News interview on Sunday.

“How are you going to win your arguments to secure the border if the border agents don’t get paid? How are you going to win the arguments to get wokeism out of the Department of Defense? If even our own troops aren’t being paid. You have no strength there.”

But McCarthy is already facing resistance. A handful of Republicans took to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, shortly after the Sunday call to criticize even the package with spending cuts and border measures as woefully insufficient.

One of the Freedom Caucus lawmakers who helped craft the proposal, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., said in a statement that as he answered phone calls coming into his office Monday, he heard frustration from people who “feel lied to and sold down the river by Washington politicians.”

“What House Republicans are attempting to achieve is straightforward: Much needed border security and real budget cuts,” he said.

Many are readying for a government closure next month. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a memo Monday to the business community saying there is a “substantial consensus” that there will be a long shutdown and warning that there is “no clear path for reopening the government.”

“Individuals and businesses rely on the discretionary functions of government on a daily basis,” the Chamber wrote. “From passports and permits to clinical trials and contractors, a well-functioning economy requires a functioning government.”

The Biden administration is also highlighting the potential damage from a funding stoppage. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on CNBC Monday, “We’ve got a good, strong economy, and creating a situation that could cause a loss of momentum is something we don’t need.”

McCarthy could potentially turn to House Democrats to pass a stopgap measure if he was willing to strip the conservative policy wins out of a funding bill. But several right-wing members are threatening to try to oust him from the speakership if he does.

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