As Congress reconvenes on Saturday, a looming crisis threatens to shut down significant portions of the federal government within just 18 hours.
A bitter divide within the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has propelled the United States towards its fourth partial government shutdown in a decade.
The House has struggled to pass legislation ensuring government operations beyond the October 1st start of the fiscal year.
Meanwhile, in the Democratic-controlled Senate, a stopgap funding bill is slated for advancement, but a final vote may not occur for several days.
If both chambers fail to send a spending bill to Democratic President Joe Biden by 12:01 a.m. (0401 GMT) on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will lack the funding required to carry out their duties.
Federal agencies have prepared detailed contingency plans, specifying which essential services such as airport security and border patrols must continue, while others, like scientific research and nutrition aid for 7 million impoverished mothers, must cease.
Most of the government’s 4 million-plus employees would not receive their salaries, regardless of whether they continued working.
In an effort to avoid disruption, festivities celebrating former President Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday in Atlanta were rescheduled from Sunday to Saturday, as reported by local media.
This standoff follows closely on the heels of a recent debt ceiling crisis that brought the federal government perilously close to defaulting on its $31.4 trillion debt.
Wall Street remains on edge, with Moody’s ratings agency warning of potential harm to U.S. creditworthiness.
Typically, Congress passes stopgap spending bills to buy time for negotiating detailed legislation that allocates funding for federal programs.
This year, a faction of Republicans in the House has obstructed action, advocating for stricter immigration policies and deeper spending cuts below the levels agreed upon during the spring’s debt-ceiling standoff.
On Friday, 21 Republicans, in concert with Democrats, voted against legislation aligned with these demands.
They argued that the focus should instead shift toward passing comprehensive spending bills for the entire fiscal year, even if it results in a near-term government shutdown.
This move frustrated other Republicans who believed it was a missed opportunity to advance conservative policies.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hinted at the possibility of relying on Democratic support to pass a stopgap bill that maintains current funding levels, though this could lead to a challenge to his leadership by hardline members of his party. Details, however, were not provided.
The Senate plans to conduct a procedural vote at 1:00 p.m. (1700 GMT) to extend government funding until November 17.
This enjoys broad support from both Republicans and Democrats, but Senate procedural complexities could delay the final vote until Tuesday.
Even if it passes, the two chambers must reconcile their differences before sending any bill to President Biden’s desk, with potential hurdles such as McCarthy’s opposition to the $6 billion Ukraine aid provision in the Senate bill. Efforts to find a way out of this impasse continue.