US government shutdown: Kevin McCarthy scrambling for last-minute deal

The US moved closer to a government shutdown on Thursday, with House Republicans braced to oppose a last-minute proposal forming in the Senate.

Congress faces a deadline of midnight on Saturday to pass a new budget, before thousands of federal employees are placed on unpaid leave.

The Senate has forged ahead with plans for a temporary funding agreement – which House Republicans will oppose.

But House leader Kevin McCarthy said time remained for a late agreement.

“I wake up every day optimistic,” Mr McCarthy, 58, said when asked about the odds of a deal being reached. “I’d say put your money on me. We will get this done.”

The likelihood of a shutdown, however, appeared to increase on Thursday as the Senate and the House continued to pursue their conflicting funding plans.

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a procedural vote on a short-term funding bill that has bipartisan support in the chamber. The bill would avoid a government shutdown until 17 November, giving Congress more time to reach a deal on a longer-term budget.

But for that bill to become law it would have to pass in the House, where at least nine hardline members of Mr McCarthy’s narrow Republican majority are refusing to support any stopgap measure.

That group has repeatedly threatened to remove Mr McCarthy as House Speaker if he relies on Democratic votes to work around their opposition and pass a funding bill without them.

Mr McCarthy has already said he has no plans to take up the Senate legislation in the House.

“I think that the Speaker is making a choice between the speakership and American interests,” President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.

“This is not an impossible puzzle to solve,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. “Speaker McCarthy needs to stop letting the Maga radicals drive his decisions.”Media caption,

Democrat Krishnamoorthi: ‘Shutdown exactly what Xi and Putin would relish’

The House, meanwhile, is expected to hold its own votes on Friday on short-term spending bills that are considered unlikely ever to pass in the Senate.

Mr McCarthy has not committed to bringing the Senate’s short-term funding bill to the House floor, but said a shutdown could be avoided if Democrats better addressed the issue of border security in that bill.

“We’re trying to work to see, could we put some border provisions in that current Senate bill that would actually make things a lot better,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“I talked this morning to some Democratic senators over there that are more aligned with what we want to do. They want to do something about the border.”

He later added that he has spoken to Mr Biden about setting up a national commission to study the national debt and find ways to reduce it.

Mr Biden’s top aide, Chief of Staff Jeff Zients, told NPR News that the White House is preparing for the possibility that a last minute deal will be cut on Saturday.

But he added that Mr Biden has no plans to personally meet Mr McCarthy.

“There’s no need for a meeting right now. The meeting that has to take place is in the House of Representatives – where House Republicans come together and fund the government,”

In recent months, Mr McCarthy has seen a growing ideological gulf between the moderate and right wings of his caucus.

That right-wing flank only accounts for a handful of members, but in a chamber that Republicans control by only nine seats they hold an out-sized power over proceedings.

Fiercely opposed to anything that resembles business as usual in Washington, they demand that the party deliver on spending cuts and what they call conservative priorities.

That means Mr McCarthy may need to look to the opposing party to bail him out and support a short-term spending bill.

Working with Democrats is all but assured to trigger a so-called motion to vacate, the first step in forcing a vote to oust him as Speaker.

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