U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday called on President Joe Biden to agree to tight border restrictions in order to prevent wide swaths of the U.S. government from shutting down for the fourth time in a decade.
Republican McCarthy's proposal is not likely to resolve a high stakes spending battle that could idle hundreds of thousands of federal workers on Sunday, as Biden and his fellow Democrats who control the Senate have already rejected Republican border plans.
With only five days to spare, the two chambers were taking sharply divergent paths.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, announced in a Senate speech that bipartisan negotiators were on the verge of unveiling a bill that would avert a government shutdown on Sunday with a stopgap funding bill.
Both he and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said they were pushing for extending current funding levels for a short period while work continues on full-year funding bills.
The bill, Schumer said, "will continue to fund the government at present levels while maintaining our commitment to Ukraine's security and humanitarian needs, while also ensuring those impacted by federal disasters across the country begin to get the resources they need."
A first procedural vote on this bill was set for late Tuesday afternoon.
Hardline House Republicans have voiced opposition to such a measure.
McCarthy pushes for border wall
McCarthy, meanwhile, is readying a stopgap spending bill that would restart construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, a signature policy of former President Donald Trump and tighten immigration policies.
Those policies are certain to be rejected by Biden and the Senate. But on Tuesday, McCarthy called on the president and Democrats to reconsider.
"To keep the government open, if the president was willing to change part of his plan along this border, we can fund this government going forward," McCarthy told reporters.
"Let's do something on the border, keep the government open and show this nation that we can do it right, and solve the rest of our problems as we go."
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be furloughed and a wide range of services — from economic data releases to nutrition benefits — will be suspended beginning on Sunday if the two sides do not reach agreement. In Washington, the National Zoo says it would have to curtail its farewell party for three giant pandas before they return to China.
The standoff has caused concern at credit rating agency Moody's, though it is unclear whether it will hurt U.S. creditworthiness, as past shutdowns have not had a significant impact on the world's largest economy.
It is also factoring into the 2024 presidential election, with Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, cheering on the shutdown talk.
Lawmakers demand $120 billion in cuts
Biden and McCarthy had aimed to head off a shutdown this year when they agreed in May, at the end of a standoff over the federal debt ceiling, to discretionary spending of $1.59 trillion for the fiscal year beginning October 1.
Lawmakers on McCarthy's right flank have since rejected that number, demanding $120 billion in cuts, even as more moderate members of their party including top Senate Republicans voiced support for the agreed-on plan.
That only accounts for a fraction of the total U.S. budget, which will come to $6.4 trillion for this fiscal year. Lawmakers are not considering cuts to popular benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which are projected to grow dramatically as the population ages.
Biden himself has called on House Republicans to honor McCarthy's deal.
Bowing to their concerns, McCarthy has teed up a procedural vote on Tuesday evening to take up four spending bills for the coming fiscal year that reflect conservative priorities and stand no chance of becoming law.
If Tuesday's vote succeeds, lawmakers would try to pass the four measures out of the House later in the week. They would not fund the full government or prevent a shutdown.
Republicans control the House by a narrow 221-212 majority and have few votes to spare, particularly since some Republican hardliners have threatened to move to oust McCarthy from his leadership role if he relies on Democratic votes to pass legislation.
That could complicate any effort to pass a stopgap spending bill and avert a shutdown.
Congress has shut down the government 14 times since 1981, though most of those funding gaps have lasted only a day or two.