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US Government Again Faces Funding Impasse

A general view of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, Nov. 7, 2023. (Diaa Bekheet/VOA)
A general view of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, Nov. 7, 2023. (Diaa Bekheet/VOA)

The U.S. government is once again facing a looming partial shutdown, which could occur at Friday midnight if lawmakers and the White House cannot agree on a new spending plan.

The latest funding dispute centers on the politically fractious House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a narrow majority but are divided among themselves on spending priorities.

A faction of hard-right conservatives has demanded spending cuts that more moderate Republican lawmakers and the virtually unanimous caucus of House Democrats, along with the Democratic-controlled Senate and Democratic President Joe Biden, have rejected.

The same dispute played out in late September, but then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House Republican majority, pushed through legislation with the support of Democrats to fully fund government operations through Friday. But the near impasse so angered eight archconservatives that they rebelled against McCarthy, and with the unanimous support of Democrats, ousted the California lawmaker from his speakership, a first in U.S. history.

After three weeks of debate over a replacement, House Republicans picked a little-known lawmaker, Representative Mike Johnson of the southern state of Louisiana, as McCarthy’s replacement. Now, with no previous experience in high-stakes legislative negotiations, Johnson is faced with cobbling together an agreement to keep the government fully operational.

But Johnson may have to rely on at least some Democratic votes to push the funding legislation to passage, the same tactic that led to McCarthy’s downfall.

Over the weekend, Johnson offered his spending plan, a laddered approach that extends funding for some government agencies until mid-January and for others until early February. His plans ignore calls by conservatives for steep budget cuts for some government programs and tougher immigration controls at the southwestern U.S. border with Mexico.

Johnson’s spending plan also does not address Biden’s call for new financial support for embattled Ukraine and Israel amid their respective wars against Russia and Hamas militants.

Without new funding by midnight Friday, governmental operations that are deemed non-essential would be halted, such as camping at national parks, advice to taxpayers and some scientific research.

It was not immediately clear whether Johnson’s two-tier spending plan has a chance of passage, but some conservatives called for its rejection because it extends funding at current levels while other lawmakers expressed doubt about extending funding for different agencies through two different dates.

In recent days, credit-rating agencies have downgraded the government’s credit rating because of the continual uncertainty, a move that could lead to higher borrowing costs for the United States, where the national debt is now approaching $34 trillion.

A House committee is set to consider Johnson’s proposal late Monday and several votes in the full House and Senate are likely later in the week leading up to the Friday funding expiration deadline.