Congressional leaders reach deal to prevent a government shutdown; Ukraine aid stalls

Feb 28, 2024, 3:00 PM | Updated: 4:47 pm

Mike Johnson...

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana). (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 will try 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 House 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.

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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.

“As the President and Congressional Leaders made clear at yesterday’s meeting, we cannot allow a government shutdown,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. She said the agreement reached would help prevent a “needless” federal shutdown.

Congress is in what has become a familiar cycle of threatened shutdowns and disruptions as hard-right Republicans in Johnson’s 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 said a short-term extension would be voted on this week so that funding would continue for agencies while lawmakers worked on the two packages. Lawmakers would be given 72 hours to review legislation, as is expected 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.

Gabe Camarillo, the Army undersecretary, said that with continued funding delays, “we have some very significant costs that we’re going to have to overcome.”

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.

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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, Johnson, McConnell, R-Ky., and Jeffries, D-N.Y., in the Oval Office on Tuesday with 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 as prioritizes a U.S.-Mexico border security deal despite rejecting an earlier proposal that collapsed. Biden pulled Johnson aside for a private conversation.

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

Without funding by Friday 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.”

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Congressional leaders reach deal to prevent a government shutdown; Ukraine aid stalls