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U.S. barrels toward shutdown as House Republicans remain stuck

Scott Wong

Scott Wong is a senior congressional reporter for NBC News.

Julie Tsirkin , Sahil Kapur , Ali Vitali , Garrett Haake , Kyle Stewart , Kate Santaliz and Frank Thorp V contributed .

WASHINGTON — With a deadline hours away, congressional leaders on Saturday are scrambling to secure a last-minute funding deal to prevent a government shutdown that would inflict economic pain on millions of American families.

halting paychecks for the nation’s 4 million servicemembers and other federal workers, shuttering federal parks and monuments, and disrupting food and education programs for low-income children.

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Many dejected lawmakers said a shutdown is all but inevitable at this point after conservative hard-liners in the House on Friday tanked a 30-day stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution or CR.

But after a lengthy huddle with rank-and-file Republicans, Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Friday night he’s not throwing in the towel, floating a new plan after several others stalled out: The House will try to pass a “clean” short-term, stopgap funding bill — without billions in Ukraine aid that the Senate wants — to buy Republicans more time to pass individual appropriations bills.

“There are no winners in a government shutdown,” McCarthy said.

Even if the House can pass a measure that the Senate would accept, a single senator could slow the process down in the Senate and force the nation into a shutdown.

But it’s unclear if the California Republican can rally his troops behind the CR, or if Democrats would accept one without the Ukraine money. There appeared to be little consensus among the 221 House Republicans after a nearly three-hour, closed-door “family meeting” in the basement of the Capitol.

“We’re all over the map,” Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., a top appropriator who is close to McCarthy, said Friday night. “Some people want to put what we just did back on the floor. Others want 14 days, some just want seven days. … They’ll go back and craft a plan and then let us know what that plan is going to look like and then we’ll all show up here and vote tomorrow hopefully on another strategy.”

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Womack wasn’t as hopeful as the speaker: “I think it’s pretty safe to say … at midnight the lights are going to go out.”

With the GOP-led House in disarray, the Democratic-controlled Senate is continuing to move forward with its own bipartisan plan to avert a shutdown: a six-week CR that includes roughly $6 billion in economic and military aid for Ukraine and another $6 billion for disaster aid at home.

The Senate bill overcame a procedural hurdle earlier this week in a bipartisan 76-22 vote. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the Senate will hold another procedural vote on the measure Saturday, but it’s unlikely senators will complete work on the CR before the shutdown deadline.

In a tweet, Schumer urged McCarthy to get on board with the Senate strategy: "If you don’t want our troops to go without pay. If you don’t want to jeopardize public health programs. If you don’t want cuts to nutrition for women, infants, and children. Bipartisanship is the only option to avoid a shutdown."

President Joe Biden and the White House have endorsed the Senate proposal, and have called on House Republicans to get behind it to stave off a shutdown.

But McCarthy has been reluctant to call a vote on a clean funding bill — one that would garner the support of most House Democrats — because of threats to his speakership. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., repeatedly has vowed to overthrow McCarthy if he brings a CR to the floor that relies on Democratic votes to pass. 

And in a new interview, Biden criticized McCarthy for cutting a deal with and kowtowing to conservative hard-liners in order to hang onto power.  

“The speaker has made a terrible bargain,” Biden said in an interview with ProPublica to be published on Sunday. “In order to keep the speakership, he’s willing to do things that he, I think, he knows are inconsistent with constitutional processes, No. 1.

“No. 2, I think it says that there is a group of MAGA Republicans who genuinely want to have a fundamental change in the way that the system works,” Biden continued. “And that’s what worries me the most.”