Congressional leaders reach a tentative deal to avoid government shutdown. But Ukraine aid stalls

Under the new plan, Congress would temporarily fund one set of federal agencies through March 8 and another set through March 22

US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson
US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson walks out of the West Wing following a meeting with US president at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 27 February 2024.MICHAEL REYNOLDS (EFE)
Washington DC -

Congressional leaders announced Wednesday they have reached a tentative agreement to prevent a government shutdown for now, days before an end-of-the-week deadline that risked shuttering some federal operations.

Under the new plan, Congress would temporarily fund one set of federal agencies through March 8 and another set through March 22. In the meantime, Congress would intend to pass packages of legislation to fund the government for the remainder of the budget year.

But there was no immediate plan to approve the $95 billion emergency national security funds for Ukraine, Israel and other allies.

The House and Senate will now need to vote and approve the deal with its temporary funds ahead of Friday’s deadline when some federal monies run out.

“We are in agreement that Congress must work in a bipartisan manner to fund our government,” said the joint statement from Speaker Mike Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, along with the Appropriation Committee leaders.

The deal comes together as negotiators in Congress have been working furiously to finish up a federal spending plan and Washington joined Ukraine and other American allies around the world in watching and waiting for Johnson’s next move.

The new Republican leader is facing the test of his career trying to keep the U.S. government open by Friday’s midnight deadline for several federal departments. At the same time, emergency funding for Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies remains stubbornly stalled. President Joe Biden convened leaders Tuesday in hopes of pushing them toward a deal.

“We are very close to getting it done,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said as he opened his side of the Capitol on Wednesday.

Congress is in what has become a familiar cycle of threatened shutdowns and disruptions as Johnson’s hard-right Republicans in his GOP majority strive for steeper spending reductions than Democrats and even some other Republicans are willing to accept. This would be the fourth short-term funding extension in about a five-month span.

While Johnson, R-La., inherited a difficult dynamic, it will only be compounded when his majority shrinks further Wednesday when Democrat Tom Suozzi of New York is sworn in after the special election to replace ousted GOP Rep. George Santos. The House is split 213-219, leaving Johnson no room for dissent.

Congressional leaders said they reached an agreement on six bills that will adhere to spending levels previously agreed to last year.

Those bills involve Veterans Affairs and departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Interior and others and will be voted on and enacted before March 8.

The remaining six bills for the Pentagon, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the State Department still need to be finalized, voted on and enacted before March 22.

Leaders also said that a short-term extension would be voted on this week so that funding would continue for agencies while lawmakers worked to draft the text incorporating the agreement. Lawmakers would be given 72 hours to review it, as needed under House rules.

If the deal and the subsequent bills are approved, it would keep the federal government funded until the end of the budget year, on Sept. 30, and avoid more short-term measures.

Top military officials said at a Pentagon briefing that the delay in passing a 2024 budget has affected the military as it has responded to crises over the past several months without additional new money to do so.

“If we have a much longer CR and we don’t have the supplemental, I think, then we have some very significant costs that we’re going to have to overcome,” said Gabe Camarillo, the Army undersecretary.

Meanwhile, Western allies are keeping close tabs on Johnson to see whether he will consider Biden’s request for $95 billion in emergency funds for Ukraine and the overseas national security needs.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the $95 billion supplemental request earlier this month that includes $60 billion for Ukraine as its military runs short of munitions to fight Russian President Vladimir Putin. About half the Ukraine money would boost U.S. defense manufacturing as part of the war effort.

Biden hosted Schumer, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the Oval Office along with Johnson and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The meeting was something of a pile-on as Johnson, who has endorsed Donald Trump in the Republican presidential race, was the only leader reluctant to help Ukraine. Biden pulled Johnson aside for a private conversation.

Biden told the lawmakers, “It’s Congress’ responsibility to fund the government.”

Without funding thousands of government employees could be furloughed and federal government offices and services temporarily shuttered or unavailable.

Biden warned that a government shutdown would damage the economy “significantly. We need a bipartisan solution,” he told them.

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