Republicans intensify government shutdown risk over spending bill

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A short-term spending bill in the US Congress has slammed into opposition from far-right Republicans, intensifying the risk of a government shutdown and Kevin McCarthy losing his speakership.

As another week of negotiations wears on, Republicans in the House of Representatives are in a state of “civil war”, according to the Democratic minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries. There are less than two weeks to find money to keep federal agencies afloat.

Late on Sunday a group of hardline and moderate Republicans reached agreement on a short-term stopgap spending bill, known as a “continuing resolution” or CR, that could help McCarthy move forward on defence legislation.

The measure would keep the government running until the end of October, giving Congress more time to enact full-scale appropriations for 2024. The Politico website reported that the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative thinktank, has thrown its weight behind the proposed CR.

But it remains unclear whether it can garner enough Republican support to pass the House. At least a dozen members came out against it or expressed scepticism. Matt Gaetz, a Florida congressman who has called for McCarthy’s removal, tweeted that the CR is “a betrayal of Republicans” while Majorie Taylor Greene of Georgia posted: “I’m a NO!”

The standoff poses the biggest threat to McCarthy in his eight months as the top House Republican as he struggles to unite a fractured caucus. The Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate have until 30 September to pass spending legislation that Joe Biden can sign into law to keep federal agencies afloat.

With a 221-212 majority, McCarthy can afford to lose no more than four votes to pass legislation that Democrats unite in opposing.

Some members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, largely aligned with t Donald Trump, are openly embracing a shutdown as a negotiating tactic to get their way on spending and conservative policy priorities.

Congressman Chip Roy, a Freedom Caucus member, last week described a shutdown as “almost” inevitable and warned: “We have to hold the line.”

The beleaguered McCarthy has said he hopes to move forward this week on an $886bn fiscal 2024 defense appropriations bill, which stalled last week as hardliners withheld support to demand a topline fiscal 2024 spending level of $1.47tn – about $120bn less than what McCarthy and Biden agreed to in May.

McCarthy told Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures programme: “We’ll bring it to the floor, win or lose, and show the American public who’s for the Department of Defense, who’s for our military.” The White House has already threatened to veto the defence bill.

The resolution agreed upon on Sunday is also unlikely to succeed with Democrats and become law. It would impose a spending cut of more than 8% on agencies other than the defense department and Department of Veterans Affairs and includes immigration and border security restrictions.

Leah Greenberg, co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible and a former congressional aide, said: “You have a Republican party that is focused on advancing extremist policy instead of on doing the basic work of governing. Every Republican in the House is basically enabling this process by virtue of being unwilling to break with the extremists.

“What you’re seeing with McCarthy is his own intentions are irrelevant. He is simply caving to the most extreme folks within the caucus and they are driving the agenda.”

Ultimately Republicans could be forced to move directly into negotiations with Senate Democrats on appropriations bills that could pass both chambers quickly and be signed into law by Biden.

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