House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., prepares to speak to the media on Capitol Hill on Nov. 2. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

For the second time this year, the U.S. government on Thursday began making formal preparations for a possible federal shutdown, as hard-line House conservatives once again threatened to leave Congress unable to meet a fast-approaching fiscal deadline.

With only eight days remaining before current funding expires, the White House’s top budget office told federal agencies to ready their plans for a major interruption, which could see millions of civilian workers and military personnel sent home or forced to work without pay after Nov. 17.

The scramble underscored the increasingly dire political situation on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have made little progress since staving off the last potential shutdown less than two months ago. Even as the House prepared on Thursday to conclude its legislative work for the week, the chamber still did not have a fully developed plan in hand to extend federal funding, days after House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., urged the public to “trust us.”

Complicating matters, a small but powerful bloc of hard-right House Republicans has refused to consider any short-term funding deal unless it includes steep budget cuts – an approach that President Biden and his fellow Democrats see as unpalatable. The hard-right bloc has been especially emboldened after ousting Johnson’s predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, in the aftermath of the last debate over government spending.

House Republicans simultaneously have advanced a series of longer-term appropriations bills that would fund the government through Sept. 30, 2024. Those measures would sharply cut federal spending on health care, education, science, and nutrition, marking a break with some of the more modest changes proposed in the Senate, where the two parties have tried to craft a bipartisan compromise. And lawmakers remain at odds over emergency aid requests for Ukraine and Israel – money that GOP lawmakers hope to couple with spending reductions and unrelated policies, including border enforcement, in another move that has drawn Democrats’ ire.

With no resolution in sight – and time rapidly dwindling – the impasse raised the odds that a wide array of federal agencies and programs could grind to a halt next week. It prompted the Office of Management and Budget to hold initial conversations with agencies about the shutdown process, as it usually does one week before funding expires, according to a person familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to describe the private communication.


Speaking to reporters before boarding Air Force One earlier Thursday, Biden implored the House to “just get to work,” adding: “The idea we’re playing games with a shutdown at this moment is just bizarre.”

In a shutdown, only the most vital government services would function. Seniors could continue to receive Social Security checks and use Medicare benefits, and the U.S. mail would still be delivered. But most federal health care, education, science, research, and labor programs would sputter or cease, unleashing real hardship on American families – and the broader economy – that intensifies with each passing day.

Without funding, the government would pause some federal inspections meant to ensure food and water safety. It could not continue research into cancer cures and other innovative therapies. Some museums, parks and passport offices could close. Seniors could not obtain new Medicare benefit cards. And a slew of federal programs that aid the poor – including those that provide child care, nutrition assistance, college financial aid and housing support – would start to exhaust their reserves in ways that could leave low-income families facing new financial strains.

Approximately 2 million federal workers, meanwhile, could see substantial interruptions in their pay, with some forced to report to the job anyway. That includes bag inspection agents at airports, who protested previous shutdowns by refusing to work, at times snarling air travel. The nation’s 1.3 million active-duty troops similarly must continue to helm their stations without pay – though all of these workers would receive back pay once the shutdown ends.


Washington Post writer Jeff Stein contributed to this report.

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