No snow day for the Senate as Congress looks to avert a government shutdown

Time is not a luxury this Congress has as a shutdown looms.

January 16, 2024, 2:57 PM

The snowstorms pummeling much of the country -- including D.C. -- will keep the majority of the federal government at home Tuesday, but not the Senate, whose members are expected to brave the weather to cast the first in a series of votes that they hope will stave off a partial government shutdown at week's end.

Though travel delays may prevent many senators from participating in Tuesday night's vote, time is not a luxury this Congress has as the shutdown looms -- meaning many will have to lace up their snow boots.

The procedural vote the Senate will take Tuesday night will be on a stopgap funding bill that lawmakers hope will buy them more time to complete work on yearlong appropriations. It comes just three days before funding for four of the 12 bills that fund the government are slated to run out.

Details of the short-term plan were announced jointly by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Mike Johnson on Sunday.

The short-term bill, if passed, will move the deadlines to fund the government by more than a month: the four funding bills that were set to expire this Friday would run out of funding on March 1; the remaining eight bills currently set to expire on Feb. 2 would run out on March 8.

PHOTO: People brave the elements at the Washington Memorial with the U.S. Capitol seen in the background after snow fell on the national Capitol overnight, accumulating anywhere from 2 to 5 inches in the region, on Jan. 16, 2024.
People brave the elements at the Washington Memorial with the U.S. Capitol seen in the background after snow fell on the national Capitol overnight, accumulating anywhere from 2 to 5 inches in the region, on Jan. 16, 2024.
Jack Gruber/USA Today Network

This stopgap spending bill should have relatively little trouble clearing the Senate, where it's expected to receive bipartisan support. Still, things could potentially come down to the wire in the Senate where passage of bills can require multiple procedural votes and multiple days of work.

Passing the stopgap bill before funding partially runs out on Friday night will require the cooperation of all senators. The objection of any one senator to expediting passage of the bill could cause a final vote to potentially bleed into the weekend. That's why the Senate can't afford a snow day.

Johnson will need Democrats' help

In the House, the short-term extension should also sail to passage relatively easily once it's brought up for a vote. However, Johnson will be in the unenviable position of having to rely on the votes of Democrats to pass it, a move that leaves him vulnerable to his right flank.

Johnson's predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted from his role as speaker for relying on Democrats to pass a similar short-term extension of government funding. While there's been less of a groundswell of Republicans threatening to oust Johnson so far, he'll likely have some hell to pay with hard-right Republicans.

Unlike the Senate, the House leaders called off votes in the lower chamber Tuesday night because of the storms. The House will need to wait for the Senate to complete its work on the short-term bill before its members can consider it.

This is the third time Congress will seek to kick the can on funding this fiscal year.

Congressional leaders hope this latest deadline extension will buy lawmakers the time they need to finally complete their work on and pass annual appropriations bills that will fund the government through the end of September.

PHOTO: Kids sled on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol after 3-4 inches of snowfall across the metro area, on Jan. 16, 2024.
Kids sled on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol after 3-4 inches of snowfall across the metro area, on Jan. 16, 2024.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Newscom

The top-line spending deal reached by Schumer and Johnson last weekend was a major step forward toward finalizing those spending bills, but leaders are calling for this short-term funding bill to buy them a bit more time to finalize legislative text based on that deal.

That agreement holds constant spending levels previously agreed to by President Joe Biden and then-Speaker McCarthy during negotiations that raised the federal debt limit.

"The bipartisan topline funding agreement reached ensures that America will be able to address many of the major challenges our country faces at home and abroad," Schumer said in a statement. "It is clear that a Continuing Resolution is necessary to give the Appropriations Committee additional time to finish drafting their bills to reflect the new agreement."

Johnson, while touting the $6 billion in COVID funds and expediting a $10 billion cut in funding to the IRS in the top-line spending deal, also said the stopgap spending bill that the Senate will work to advance Tuesday would be necessary.

"Because the completion deadlines are upon us, a short continuing resolution is required to complete what House Republicans are working hard to achieve: an end to governance by omnibus, meaningful policy wins, and better stewardship of American tax dollars," Johnson said in the statement.

Johnson has previously said he would not take up any additional short-term bills, and many in his right flank are angry about the underlying top-line deal Johnson struck, contending it does not do enough to secure steep cuts they wanted.

The House Freedom Caucus took only moments to make their objection to the stopgap funding bill known.

"This is what surrender looks like," the House Freedom Caucus posted on X moments after Schumer and Johnson announced their intent to hold votes to move the funding deadlines.

ABC News' Lauren Peller contributed to this report.

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