The United States government is headed towards a shutdown this weekend as Republicans and Democrats pursued rival stopgap measures to prevent a closure that would disrupt many government services, squeeze federal employees and roil politics.
The closure of all but critical government services, set to start on Sunday after midnight (04:00 GMT) if lawmakers fail to reach a deal, would be the first since 2019 – immediately delaying salaries for millions of federal employees and military personnel.
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“It will have an immediate impact at one minute past midnight [04:01 GMT Sunday]” when “basically large areas of federal institutions shut down”, said Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from Washington, DC.
“The military is the key issue here because military cheques are due to go out in the middle of October. If the situation is not resolved by then, it means some two million members of the military won’t be getting paid. All federal workers will not be paid. They will be put on leave or they will be forced to work without pay.”
The two chambers of Congress are deadlocked as House of Representatives Republicans, fuelled by hard-right demands to slash budgets, are forcing a confrontation over federal spending – which also includes aid to Ukraine.
It is impossible to predict how long a shutdown would last. The Democratic-held Senate and Republican-controlled House are working on vastly different plans to avert a shutdown, while House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is struggling to win any support from hard-right conservatives to keep the government open.
A particular issue has been the inclusion of more aid to Ukraine in the funding package, with a growing number of Republicans staunchly opposed to providing more assistance to the country in its defence against a Russian invasion.
McCarthy said he would hold a vote Saturday on a new measure that would keep the government open for another 45 days at current spending levels but without any aid for Ukraine.
The bill would require significant Democratic support to pass.
If President Joe Biden wants to lobby against it, “then the shutdown is on him”, McCarthy said.
The White House has insisted the real negotiation should be between McCarthy and Republican hardliners who scuppered a similar temporary funding measure on Friday, underlying a growing sense of chaos inside the party before next year’s presidential election.
“There are those in Congress right now who are sowing so much division, they’re willing to shut down the government tonight,” Biden said on Saturday morning on X, formerly known as Twitter. “It’s unacceptable.”
The Democrat-controlled Senate was expected to vote on its own stopgap bill later Saturday – one that does include funding for Ukraine.
It is the responsibility of Congress to fund the government. The House and Senate have to agree to fund the government in some way, and the president has to sign the legislation into law.
The two sides are deeply entrenched and nowhere near a deal to avert a shutdown.
But if the shutdown lasts for weeks, pressure will build to end the impasse, particularly if active-duty military members miss pay dates on October 13 or November 1. If the wider public starts seeing disruptions in air travel or border security as workers go unpaid, it will further goad Congress to act.
“It would have a massive effect on the US, not least on the economy, the lack of spending power but also on its international reputation, and this is the type of thing that would undermine the US’s economic standing in the eyes of the rest of the world,” Hanna said.