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Lawmakers have another self-imposed shutdown deadline on Friday


Congress is supposed to pass laws to fund the government every year, and that's supposed to happen by the end of September.


The end of September. Well, it's now February - late February - and still nothing. They keep pushing back the deadline to avoid calamity. Lawmakers have another self-imposed shutdown deadline on Friday, which is likely to result in one of two things - a shutdown or another continuation of the spending plans authorized a very long time ago back in 2022.

MARTIN: NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel is here to tell us more about this again. Good morning.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Good morning again.

MARTIN: So, you know, you've been covering Congress since October, and I already feel like we've talked about this three or four times, but it keeps happening. Why is that?

MCDANIEL: This is actually so important for people to understand. And the answer is kind of simple but kind of sad. Congress is broken, right? Passing funding legislation is the core responsibility of the legislative branch. We're sitting here in the richest country in the world. You've probably heard this called the power of the purse. And instead of coming together to figure out how the United States should best use the money it collects from citizens and taxpayers, it's relied on decisions made back in 2022 just to keep the lights on. But the world is different now, right? Inflation has limited how far dollars go. It prevents every single part of the government from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Education from doing long-term planning with the key context of knowing how much money they'll have to devote to their programs.

MARTIN: This is the most essential part of Congress' job. So why haven't lawmakers done it?

MCDANIEL: I've said it before. I'll say it again. It's true that House Republicans have a very narrow majority. That means in order to pass anything with just Republican votes, which is typical when you've got the gavel, when you've got the power, they have to keep everyone in a very divided party on the same page. But I actually think that's just sort of half the story. The fuller answer here is about systems. House Republicans changed the rules at the beginning of this Congress last January. So in practice, it only takes three or four people out of more than 200 to fire their boss, speaker Mike Johnson. But working with Democrats to keep the government open will upset more than just those three or four people, because there's a faction of the Republican Party that sees anything less than sort of passing their ultimate conservative priorities as a failure, who see bipartisan legislating as a failure. But Congress right now is under bipartisan control. The Democrats have power in the Senate and those two stances are sort of irreconcilable.

MARTIN: Is there a path out of that?

MCDANIEL: I'll give you a short-term answer and a longer-term answer. Lawmakers will meet with the White House on Tuesday, but they've also got other stuff to tackle - Ukraine and Israel aid, a possible Biden impeachment, even after a central witness was just charged by prosecutors who say he was lying about some of the things he told them. The Senate also has to deal with the impeachment of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. But on funding every one of these short-term extension bills we've been talking about, in fact, every major piece of legislation in the 118th Congress, has passed with more House Democratic votes than House Republican votes, even though Republicans are in the majority.

These full-year government funding bills, for all the reasons we've talked about, won't be any different. And as far as I can tell, the only way I can see to move forward is for Speaker Johnson to put the most conservative plan that can still get Democratic votes up for a vote on the House floor, even if that means risking his job, which it definitely does. The long-term answer here is this is kind of how the House of Representatives is designed to work right now. There are just 20 or so of the more than 400 seats that have competitive races because of how maps are drawn and how party primaries work. Really, encouraging compromise would probably take changes to those systems.

MARTIN: That is NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel. Eric, thank you,

MCDANIEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.