Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., are continuing last-minute negotiations to fund the federal government ahead of an initial March 1 deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., are continuing last-minute negotiations to fund the federal government ahead of an initial March 1 deadline. Tom Williams / GETTY IMAGES

With negotiations stalling, Biden, congressional leaders to meet days before shutdown

Democrats and Republicans are blaming each other for the lack of a funding agreement.

President Biden will meet with the top House and Senate lawmakers on Tuesday as Democrats and Republicans are at a standstill over fiscal 2024 budget talks just a few days before funding expires for some agencies. 

Senate Democrats and House Republicans pointed fingers at each other to start the week as progress toward a funding agreement stalled. The two sides previously agreed to the overall spending level for the remainder of the fiscal year and how to divvy up the money among the 12 must-pass annual spending bills, but have remained divided over the language in the final version of the measures.

Congress last month averted a shutdown by punting the funding deadlines for some agencies to March 1 and the others to March 8, which leaders in both chambers had said would buy time to set funding allocations and draft bills.

With a final agreement remaining elusive, both sides are blaming the other for a lack of progress. 

“As we return this week, we will once again face the specter of a harmful and unnecessary government shutdown caused by an extreme wing within the Republican Party,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a letter to colleagues. “While we had hoped to have legislation ready this weekend that would give ample time for members to review the text, it is clear now that House Republicans need more time to sort themselves out.”

The House Freedom Caucus has demanded House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., secure either conservative policy victories in the spending bill or pass a full-year continuing resolution that would result in significant cuts for domestic agencies. 

Schumer asked his Senate colleagues to maintain a flexible schedule this week given the uncertainty over potential appropriations votes. He implored Johnson to ignore “extremists” within his party and noted a shutdown would have drastic consequences for agencies such as the departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Transportation. 

Johnson countered that Schumer’s letter was “unproductive” and the House worked “nonstop” to reach an agreement on funding bills. Republicans are “continuing to work in good faith,” he said, while pushing to restrict Democratic priorities he suggested are harming the economy.

“Leader Schumer’s letter fails to mention that many of the points still being debated come from new Democrat demands that were not previously included in the Senate bills,” Johnson said. “At a time of divided government, Senate Democrats are attempting at this late stage to spend on priorities that are farther left than what their chamber agreed upon.”

As alluded to by Schumer, funding under the most recent continuing resolution for the departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, Veterans Affairs and Agriculture will expire after March 1. The remaining agencies are currently funded through March 8. Congressional leaders have agreed to a top-line spending level of $1.66 trillion for fiscal 2024, with defense spending jumping 3% to $886 billion and non-defense spending staying essentially flat relative to fiscal 2023 at nearly $773 billion. 

The White House has said Biden will meet on Tuesday with congressional leaders to discuss “the urgency” of keeping the government open, as well as passing funding to aid Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.., said on the Senate floor on Monday a shutdown would be "harmful to the country" and not accomplish and policy or political goals. 

"The task at hand will require that everyone rows in the same direction toward clean appropriations and away from poison pills," McConnell said. 

Congress could opt to pass another CR to avoid a shutdown, which would mark the fourth such set of stopgap bills of the fiscal year. More short-term measures, depending on their length, could come with significant risks. Under a provision of the 2023 debt ceiling law, a CR that goes into May would force devastating, across-the-board cuts that would likely require employee furloughs and significant disruptions to agency operations. Already, several agencies have implemented policies to adapt to budget shortfalls

Even if Congress can quickly pass full-year funding bills, the fiscal year will be nearly halfway over and agencies will be under pressure to get the money out the door in an expedited timeline. The problem is one with which agencies have familiarity, however, and that they last confronted in fiscal 2022 when Congress also approved appropriations in mid-March.

Schumer on Monday said he was hopeful House Republicans would "engage in responsible governing" and avoid a shutdown, though he warned that "time is short."