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Will Republicans cause another government shutdown this week?

With the deadline for a partial government shutdown just days away, it's worth understanding who's responsible for the latest congressional mess.

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President Joe Biden and top congressional leaders from both chambers don’t get together for routine chats, but as NBC News reported, the quintet’s latest face-to-face meeting is now just hours away.

President Joe Biden will host the top four congressional leaders at the White House to negotiate Tuesday as the Senate’s top Democrat warned of a potential partial government shutdown at the end of the week.

This is a story with several moving parts, and some Q&A might help add some clarity.

Wait, we’re having to talk about government shutdowns again?

I’m afraid so.

I thought congressional leaders worked out a plan weeks ago.

Not exactly. In mid-January, Congress approved a temporary spending measure — what’s known as a “continuing resolution” (or “CR”) — intended to give lawmakers more time to finish work on appropriations bills. Around the same time, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Mike Johnson also agreed to some topline spending numbers.

So what’s the problem?

The trouble is, the work on the appropriations bills has faltered, and the agreement on topline spending numbers didn’t amount to much: The next step involved filling in the gaps with substantive details, which is generally when the process starts breaking down.

What kind of timeline are we dealing with?

Under the two-tiered model that House GOP leaders insisted on, there are two deadlines, not one. The first comes this Friday (March 1), when funding would run out for the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs. The deadline for the rest of federal operations is a week later (March 8).

How difficult would it be to pass the appropriations bills before the deadlines?

In theory, it should be relatively straightforward. In fact, funding for the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs is generally considered far easier than spending on the Defense, State and Justice departments, which is one of the reasons the House speaker staggered the process this way.

And so I ask again, what’s the problem?

The original plan was to unveil the text of some spending bills overnight, ahead of members returning to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, but the process broke down amid Republican demands. As NBC News’ report added, “Part of the reason for the delay is that House conservatives demand that Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., attach a number of conservative policy riders to the spending bills even though the Democratic-led Senate would reject them.” Among the proposed riders: Some Republicans are pushing for a ban on mail delivery of abortion medication.

If members are having so much trouble, should we expect another stopgap spending bill?

Probably, but there’s room for skepticism. For one thing, there’s no reason to believe giving members more time would make much of a difference. For another, GOP leaders have insisted that they won’t pass another temporary spending bill.

Haven’t they said this before, only to change their minds?

Yes, which is one reason why this remains a potential solution.

Are members optimistic that a solution will come together before the deadline?

It depends on whom you ask, though Axios reported last week, “Behind closed doors, House Republicans have shifted from optimistically cautious to expecting a government shutdown.”

Can we wrap up this post now?

I guess so, though there’s one other thing to keep in mind: Speaker Johnson has relied heavily in recent months on Democratic votes to pass key bills, and to prevent a shutdown — or to end one — the Louisianan will likely have to do so again. With this in mind, far-right factions believe they have the leverage, but I tend to think they have the big picture backwards, which Biden is likely to emphasize in today's White House get-together.

That said, every time House GOP leaders turn to Democrats, talk of far-right Republicans trying to oust the speaker grows a little louder, which is something Johnson is well aware of. Watch this space.

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