The Hill: Alarm bells ring as lawmakers prep for possible shutdown

THE HILL, ARIS FOLLEY

Alarm bells are ringing in Washington as some lawmakers begin to make preparations for a government in shutdown.

House Republicans left town Thursday without a deal for a short-term funding patch, also known as a continuing resolution (CR), scrapping expected weekend votes. Congress has little more than a week until the looming deadline to prevent a shutdown, or lapse in government spending, and no clear path forward. 

“Many of our offices have been talking about how to make sure that our staff is going to be able to survive because the [legislative] branch appropriations budget hasn’t been passed, which means, while our staff will continue to work as essential workers, they won’t necessarily get paid,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told reporters this week.

In an acknowledgement that a shutdown is growing increasingly likely, Democrats — and at least one Republican — told The Hill that their offices have begun whipping out contingency plans and preparing their constituents.

Some say they’re providing pay bonuses to staff to tide them over in the event a long-term funding lapse causes pay disruptions. 

“My office has given bonuses to our staff in preparation for the shutdown,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said Wednesday.

Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) also told reporters earlier this week he recently began taking “extraordinary measures” in his office “about the prospect of a shutdown.”

“The biggest concern of my staff members, is the fact that they are going to get phone calls from people who say, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills,’ ‘I don’t know how I’m going to survive,’ ‘I am going to lose my business,’” Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said, calling Virginia “the most impacted.”

The last government shutdown happened roughly four years ago amid a nasty fight between the Trump administration and a Democratic-led House over funding for the then-president’s proposed border wall.

The month-long funding lapse went down as the longest in modern history, impacting hundreds of thousands of federal workers. 

Members on both sides are hopeful Congress will be able to strike a deal in time to avert a shutdown by the Sept. 30 deadline, but some are signaling the votes aren’t there for a CR.

Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) instead called on the GOP conference to focus on passing its annual government funding bills — also a long shot in the days before funding lapses.

“We have a job to do and we should stay here this weekend and vote on it,” Ogles said. 

House Republicans this week have repeatedly tried to bring up their fiscal 2024 Pentagon funding bill — one of 12 annual appropriations bills — without success, as conservatives have pushed for further spending cuts. 

Conservatives have also stymied two attempts at a Republican CR in the past week, lining up against both proposals and dooming chances of passage in the lower chamber’s slim GOP majority.

“I have already told the people in the 3rd District of Arkansas, and this has been a common theme of mine,” Womack said. “Watch what we’re doing, watch the rule votes and you will understand if and when a government shutdown is happening.”

“And so I’ve tried to prep everybody I know,” he added.

Others have downplayed the threats of a shutdown.

“Nobody in my district’s calling me about it,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) told reporters earlier this week. 

“For the vast majority of the American people, the government shuts down and they go back to work, and it’s a normal day for most people,” Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas) said. 

But as concerns rise, there is chatter about a possible workaround.

Late Wednesday, a coalition of bipartisan House members worked out a potential escape hatch on spending, endorsing a plan to temporarily fund the government along with a host of potential add-ons designed to attract support from both sides.  

At least two moderate Republicans have indicated they are willing to work with Democrats to force a vote on an alternate plan if their own party can’t achieve a CR vote.

And while the House is usually first to move on a CR, the Senate is already taking action toward teeing up a vote on a stopgap funding plan, eyeing a previous bill passed by the House as a possible vehicle.  

“As I have said for months, we must work in a bipartisan fashion to keep our government open, avoid a shutdown, and avoid inflicting unnecessary pain on the American people. This action will give the Senate the option to do just that,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday.

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