Schumer, Johnson clash as shutdown nears

By Manuel Quiñones | 02/26/2024 06:17 AM EST

Parts of the departments of Energy, Agriculture and Transportation will shut down if lawmakers don’t act by Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Mike Johnson.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) in December. Both say they want to avoid a government shutdown but are also negotiating hard for party priorities. Francis Chung/POLITICO

Congress will start another week with a partial government shutdown looming and no deal on legislation to prevent it.

Agencies covered by Energy-Water, Agriculture-Rural Development, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development, and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs are only funded through Friday. The rest are funded through March 8.

Leaders and appropriators were hoping to at least release a path forward by Sunday. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) fired off a letter to colleagues blaming House Republicans.


“Unless Republicans get serious, the extreme Republican shutdown will endanger our economy, raise costs, lower safety, and exact untold pain on the American people,” Schumer wrote.

“Unfortunately,” Schumer said, “extreme House Republicans have shown they’re more capable of causing chaos than passing legislation.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) shot back on X, formerly known as Twitter: “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 deadlines.”

All four top congressional leaders are due at the White House Tuesday to meet with President Joe Biden about about fiscal 2024 and national security supplemental spending.

Johnson and his leadership team held a conference call with members last Friday where he expressed optimism about finalizing a deal but didn’t rule out a shutdown.

Appropriators have said the bills are mostly done. The hard part is finalizing hot-button issues, particularly contentious policy riders.

Johnson told colleagues the bills have wins but no home runs for the GOP because of the need to secure bipartisan support to secure passage. Still, negotiators appear to be holding out for a better deal.

“Leader Schumer’s letter fails to mention that many of the points still being debated come from new Democrat demands that were not previously included in the Senate bills,” Johnson said Sunday.

Appropriators said in recent weeks that the Interior-Environment bill would see cuts from current spending. The Department of Energy could see a bump.

“We’re pleased with the allocation that we have got,” Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), chair of the House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee,” said in late January.

“I’m confident that [with] our friends in the Senate — if they negotiate in good faith with us, which I assume they will — we will be able to get to an Energy and Water bill that just about everyone can be happy with,” he said.

The House Energy-Water bill includes riders against energy efficiency standards for residential gas furnaces, water heaters, air conditioners, ice makers, mobile homes and distribution transformers.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers last week fired off a letter asking for a new rider against the Biden administration’s permitting pause on liquefied natural gas exports.

Members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus have called on Johnson to opt for a long-term continuing resolution through the end of the fiscal year with across-the-board cuts if Republicans can’t score big wins through the long-delayed regular process.

A letter from the group said: “If we are not going to secure significant policy changes or even keep spending below the caps adopted by bipartisan majorities less than one year ago, why would we proceed when we could instead pass a year-long funding resolution that would save Americans $100 billion in year one?”

But Johnson, who once supported the idea, has been swayed by appropriators and defense hawks eager to give agencies fresh dollars.

“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,” said the speaker.

Lobbying for cash

Rank-and-file lawmakers and advocates have been looking to make their mark on the spending bills by pushing appropriators to support favored programs.

Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Alex Padilla of California, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, and Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada sent a letter last week urging $118 million for DOE’s geothermal office.

The lawmakers’ letter wants $100 million of the money specifically for “next-generation enhanced geothermal demonstrations.”

“We believe it is important for Congress to continue to support and incentivize geothermal energy research and development to not only provide a reliable source of power generation but also shore up our domestic supply of lithium and other critical minerals as we continue to push toward reaching the United States’ emission reduction goals,” the senators wrote.

Supplemental impasse

Democrats and the White House have spent the last two weeks pressuring Johnson to take up the Senate-passed supplemental spending bill in response to conflicts or threats in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The $95 billion legislation, which cleared the Senate with broad bipartisan support, would repurpose nearly $3 billion to help secure uranium supplies for power plants.

“We are here to show the Ukrainian people that America stands with them and will continuing fighting to get the funding they so desperately need and deserve,” Schumer said in a statement during a visit to Ukraine last week. “We will not stop fighting until we gain the aid.”

Democrats in Ukraine.
(From left) Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) with Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) answer media questions in Lviv, Ukraine, on Friday. | Mykola Tys/AP

Even though Johnson has all but ruled out taking up the Senate bill, which House conservatives loathe, he has kept the door open to supporting aid for Ukraine. Johnson just won’t say how.

Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, told reporters last week: “We’ve got to match the basic words of support for our allies and partners with the action of putting this up for a vote. That’s the speaker’s obligation. That’s what he has to do. And he can’t shirk from that or hide from that. He’s got to step up and do it.”

A bipartisan group of moderates, led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), unveiled a much narrower $66 billion alternative bill, focused only on military aid to Ukraine, Israel and Asian allies.

They hope removing humanitarian and other assistance will make the Republican right — and Johnson — more comfortable. The speaker, however, has not said how he feels about the legislation.

There’s also talk of gathering enough signatures to force a House floor vote on one of the supplemental bills through a so-called discharge petition if other options fail. House Rules ranking member Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) filed a measure meant to accelerate the process.

Such a move would divide both parties. While many Republicans are opposed to more money for Ukraine, progressives are against more military aid to Israel without conditions.

Reporters Olivia Beavers, Caitlin Emma, Nico Portuondo, Andres Picon and Emma Dumain contributed.