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Democrats warn of a potential government shutdown as Biden calls a meeting with lawmakers

Part of the government is set to shut down at 12:01 a.m. Saturday unless Congress acts. The rest would shut down March 8.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will host the top four congressional leaders at the White House to negotiate Tuesday as the Senate’s top Democrat warned of a potential partial government shutdown at the end of the week.

The high-stakes meeting is set for just three days before funding for the departments of Agriculture, Energy, House and Urban Development, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs, as well as other programs, runs out late Friday. Funding for the rest of the government, including the Defense, State and Justice departments, will expire a week later, on March 8.

“We are mere days away from a partial government shutdown on March 1,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a letter to his colleagues Sunday. “Unless Republicans get serious, the extreme Republican shutdown will endanger our economy, raise costs, lower safety, and exact untold pain on the American people.”

Shutting down the Agriculture Department would threaten critical food aid programs for women and children and block loans for farmers, he warned, while shuttering the Transportation Department could increase the risk of travel delays and safety by freezing the training of air traffic controllers and halting investigations.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Holds News Conference Discussing The National Security Supplemental Bill
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., warned of a potential shutdown. Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Schumer said a first tranche of federal funding bills was supposed to be ready over the weekend “to give ample time for members to review the text.” He cast blame on the GOP for the missed deadline, saying, “It is clear now that House Republicans need more time to sort themselves out.”

Part of the reason for the delay is that House conservatives demand that Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., attach a number of conservative policy riders to the spending bills even though the Democratic-led Senate would reject them.

Johnson fired back at Schumer on Sunday night, accusing him of engaging in “petty politics” and arguing that the holdup is, in part, due to eleventh-hour “Democrat demands” that were not part of the Senate’s funding bills.

“Despite the counterproductive rhetoric in Leader Schumer’s letter, the House has worked nonstop, and is continuing to work in good faith, to reach agreement with the Senate on compromise government funding bills in advance of the deadline,” Johnson said in a statement. 

“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," he continued.

Another hurdle to staving off a shutdown is the congressional calendar. Senators return to Washington on Monday, but House members are not scheduled to get back into town until Wednesday evening, giving Congress little time to pass funding bills that have not even been released.

It almost certainly means that House and Senate leaders will need yet another stopgap funding bill — known as a continuing resolution, or CR — to keep the government’s lights on past Friday.

On a conference call Friday night with rank-and-file House Republicans, Johnson alluded to the possibility that another CR extending funding another week or two might be needed, even as he said he hated the idea of passing another short-term funding bill.

Biden’s meeting with top Hill leaders — Schumer, Johnson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. — will focus not only on averting a shutdown but also on passing a national security package, including critical military aid for allies Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Fresh from a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Lviv, Schumer dialed up the pressure on Johnson to bring the Senate-passed foreign aid legislation, known as a supplemental, to the House floor and warned that Russia could win the war unless aid is sent immediately.

​​“Congress has a chance, right now, to ensure Putin is not victorious. The bipartisan national security supplemental currently sits at the feet of Speaker Johnson,” Schumer wrote Sunday to his Senate colleagues.

“I call on the Speaker to go to Ukraine and witness what we witnessed, because I believe it is virtually impossible for anyone with decency and goodwill to turn their back on Ukraine if they saw the horrors of that war with their own eyes," Schumer continued. "If Speaker Johnson put the national security supplemental on the floor today, it would pass with a large number of both Democrats and Republicans. Now is the time for action.”

Johnson and conservatives in both chambers have argued that the U.S. should not send additional foreign aid to Ukraine until the southern border with Mexico is secure. Johnson wants tougher border policies enacted alongside aid for Ukraine.

"This is not a time for petty politics," Johnson said. "House Republicans will continue to work in good faith and hope to reach an outcome as soon as possible, even as we continue to insist that our own border security must be addressed immediately."