Partial US government shutdown just four days away as congressional standoff continues

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WASHINGTON, Sept 27 (Reuters) – Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday rejected a stopgap funding bill advancing in the Senate, bringing Washington closer to its fourth partial shutdown of the U.S. government in a decade with just four days to go.

That would lead to the furlough of hundreds of thousands of federal workers and the suspension of a wide range of government services, from economic data releases to nutrition benefits, until Congress manages to pass a funding bill that President Joe Biden, a Democrat, would sign into law.

The Senate plan, which advanced on a wide bipartisan margin on Tuesday, would fund the government through Nov. 17, giving lawmakers more time to agree on funding levels for the full fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said the Senate would hold the next procedural vote on its bill on Thursday, unless senators can reach an agreement that would allow them to vote sooner.

McCarthy’s House of Representatives was focusing its efforts on trying to agree on more of the 12 separate full-year funding bills, of which they have so far passed one.

“I don’t see the support in the House” for the Senate plan, McCarthy said, though the bill has the support of Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The House was expected to vote late into the night on amendments to specific funding bills, though even if all four of those bills were to be signed into law by Saturday, on their own they would not be enough to prevent a partial government shutdown.

Weeks ago, Biden urged Congress to pass a short-term extension of fiscal 2023 spending, along with emergency aid to help state and local governments cope with natural disasters and help Ukraine in its war against Russia. He also sought new border security funding.

“If we have a government shutdown, a lot of vital work and science and health could be impacted, from cancer research to food safety,” Biden said on Wednesday. “So the American people need our Republican friends in the House of Representatives to do their jobs: Fund the government.”

The standoff has begun to attract the attention of ratings agencies, with both Moody’s and Fitch warning it could damage the federal government’s credit-worthiness.

House Republicans want much tougher legislation that would stop the flow of immigrants at the U.S. southern border with Mexico and deeper spending cuts than were enacted in June.

CALL FOR BIPARTISANSHIP

Worries of a shutdown are already spreading outside of Washington. In Atlanta, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum moved up its planned Sunday festivities celebrating the former president’s 99th birthday to Saturday before federal funds could be frozen at midnight, according to local media.

Executive branch agencies were already making preparations for determining which federal workers would remain on the job — without pay until the government is funded — and which ones will be furloughed. Similar exercises were occurring in Congress as well, where thousands of legislative aides and other support workers are employed.

“Speaker McCarthy, the only way – the only way – out of a shutdown is bipartisanship,” Schumer said in a speech to the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he opposed a shutdown.

“The Border Patrol and ICE agencies have to continue to work for nothing” during a shutdown, the Republican lawmaker told reporters on Wednesday, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). McConnell added that a solution is not “more likely to happen in the shutdown than with the government open.”

McCarthy is facing threats from hardline members of his own party who rejected a deal he negotiated with Biden in May for $1.59 trillion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2024 and approved in June, demanding instead another $120 billion in cuts.

A handful of the hardliners have also threatened to oust McCarthy from his leadership role if he passes a spending bill that requires any Democratic votes to pass.

McCarthy said House Republicans would probably bring their own stopgap measure to the floor on Friday.

It was unclear whether there will be the votes in the House to pass it.

The standoff comes four months after Washington flirted with defaulting on the nation’s more than $31 trillion in debt, a move that would have rocked financial markets worldwide.

Another downgrade of the U.S. credit rating could push borrowing costs – and the nation’s debt – even higher.

Hardline Republicans, including Donald Trump, frontrunner for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, have dismissed the risks of a shutdown and in some cases actively pushed for one.

“My advice is buckle up — there’s turbulence ahead,” Representative Andy Ogles told reporters after attending a closed-door meeting of fellow Republicans.

Chart shows the timeline of the 14 US government shutdowns from 1981 to 2020, and the potential shutdown looming by Oct. 2023 if Congress fails to enact spending measure.

Reporting by Moira Warburton, Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone, Tom Hogue and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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