Congress rushes to avoid a shutdown, weighs shortcuts to its own rules

On Capitol Hill, the only rules that really matter are those that a majority of lawmakers are willing to enforce. As Congress races to complete $1.2 trillion project spending package It is almost certain to become law in the coming days, but lawmakers are considering several shortcuts and tricks to avoid a partial government shutdown after midnight Friday.

Although a brief shutdown over the weekend would not be as disruptive as a shutdown occurring during the work week, it could still have repercussions.

“If Republicans and Democrats continue to work together in good faith to fund the government, then I hope we are just days away from completing the appropriations process,” Senator Chuck Schumer said Wednesday. , Democrat of New York and Majority Leader. “The work is not done, but we are very close.”

Here are the ways congressional leaders may have to break, bend or change the rules to get the bill passed before 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning, when federal funding for half of the government is set to expire.

For starters, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives will almost certainly try to waive a self-imposed rule requiring lawmakers to have at least 72 hours to review legislation before it comes up for a vote. The rule draws a bright line with many House Republican conservatives who say they have repeatedly been forced in the past to vote for huge bills as take-it-or-leave-it proposals, without having enough time to digest, only to discover reprehensible things. provisions.

“If you are a Republican considering voting for this omnibus spending package, you must insist that it be read AT LEAST 72 hours, because you will own every dollar of increased spending, every disastrous Biden policy funded by this program,” said Rep. Bob Good. Virginia Republican and leader of the far-right Freedom Caucus, wrote on social media.

But with time running out and the legislation not yet made public as of Wednesday afternoon, it would be impossible to consider and pass the bill before the deadline if the rule were enforced.

Republicans upset about not having enough time to review the legislation might object to the waiver, but some of those same Republicans admit they probably won't support the spending package anyway. However, ignoring this rule risks further right-wing resentment over President Mike Johnson's handling of spending issues.

Because of right-wing opposition to the spending bills, Mr. Johnson has been forced to consider them under a special procedure that prevents opponents from preventing a bill from passing. The far right resorted to a previously rare tactic of opposing their own party's “rule” of introducing spending bills, a break from House tradition.

As a result, Mr Johnson referred to the spending legislation as part of what is known as “suspension of the rules”. The process, as its name suggests, overrides the House's usual rules, halting floor debate and barring any attempts to amend bills.

But as a special shortcut typically used for consensus legislation, it requires a two-thirds supermajority of the House — 290 if all are present — to pass. A considerable number of Democrats will have to join Republicans in approving the measure since dozens of Republicans will vote against any spending plan.

According to House Republican internal rules approved at the start of Congress last year, this maneuver is not supposed to be used for a bill estimated to cost more than $100 billion, unless it does not reduce the expenditure intended to finance it. But a Republican Party aide said a spending bill — even if it would cost 10 times as much — cannot break the rule because the Congressional Budget Office does not provide cost estimates for it.

Once the bill is approved by the House, it faces a new set of hurdles in the Senate, which can generally only be circumvented if all 100 members agree – an unlikely event given the conservative opposition to the spending program.

When the House is finished, Mr. Schumer will move as quickly as possible to introduce the bill. He will then take steps to limit debate and block amendments that could kill the deal. Once that deadline begins, the Senate will then have to wait at least a day to consider the motion to end debate on the package. If passed, the Senate could spend up to 30 hours considering the bill, potentially pushing debate beyond the weekend.

In exchange for speeding up the process, members of the right-wing Republican bloc in the Senate will likely demand the ability to propose certain amendments, as they did when the first spending package was passed. A combination of Republicans and Democrats defeated them all and will have to do it again since approval of any amendment would require the measure to be sent back to the House.

One factor working in favor of faster Senate passage is that the Senate and House are expected to recess over the two-week Easter recess once the legislation is approved. The desire to leave the city could weaken the opposition and allow the Senate to act quickly if opponents recognize they have no real chance of blocking its passage.

If it became clear that the legislation was going to stall in the Senate as the shutdown deadline approaches, Congress could also approve another short-term fix to buy more time. But Senate and House leaders see an end near to the grueling task of passing legislation to fund the government through September. They want to keep the pressure on.

And the last time Congress missed a Friday deadline to approve a major spending package earlier this month, President Biden didn't sign it until the next day, technically allowing a brief shutdown that went unnoticed.

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