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Racing to Avoid a Shutdown, Lawmakers Weigh Skirting Their Own Rules

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Racing to Avoid a Shutdown, Lawmakers Weigh Skirting Their Own Rules

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On Capitol Hill, the only rules that really matter are the ones that a majority of lawmakers are willing to enforce. So as Congress rushes to complete a $1.2 trillion spending package that is all but certain to become law in the next few days, lawmakers are weighing several shortcuts and tricks to avoid a partial government shutdown after midnight on Friday.

Though a brief shutdown over the weekend would not be as disruptive as one that occurs during the workweek, it could still have repercussions.

“If Republicans and Democrats keep working together in good faith to fund the government, then I hope we’re just days away from completing the appropriations process,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Wednesday. “The job is not done, but we are very close.”

Here are the ways congressional leaders may have to break, bend or otherwise twist the rules to get the legislation done before 12:01 on Saturday morning, when federal funding for half the government is slated to lapse.

To begin with, House Republican leaders are almost certain to try to waive a self-imposed rule requiring that lawmakers be given at least 72 hours to review legislation before it comes up for a vote. The rule is a bright line with many House Republican conservatives who say they have been forced many times in the past to vote for huge bills as take-it-or-leave-it propositions without adequate time to digest them, only to later discover objectionable provisions.

“If you’re a Republican planning to vote for this omnibus spending package, you ought to insist on AT LEAST 72 hours to read it because you will own every dollar of increased spending, every disastrous Biden policy this funds,” Representative Bob Good, Republican of Virginia and the leader of the far-right Freedom Caucus, wrote on social media.

But with time running out and legislative text not yet made public as of Wednesday afternoon, it would be impossible to consider and pass the legislation before the deadline if the rule were enforced.

Republicans unhappy that they were not being given enough time to comb through the legislation could oppose waiving the rule, but some of those same Republicans concede they are not likely to back the spending package regardless. Overriding the rule, however, is likely to stir more right-wing resentment to the way Speaker Mike Johnson is handling spending issues.

Because of the opposition on the right to the spending bills, Mr. Johnson has been forced to consider them under a special procedure that prevents opponents from blocking legislation from coming to a vote. The far right has been employing a previously rare tactic of opposing their own party’s “rule” for bringing spending bills to the floor, a break with House tradition.

As a result, Mr. Johnson has been bringing up the spending legislation under what is known as “suspension of the rules.” The process, as the name suggests, nullifies the regular rules of the House, cutting short debate on the floor and barring any attempts to change the bills.

But as a special shortcut that is typically used for consensus legislation, it requires a supermajority of two-thirds of the House — 290 if all are present — for passage. Considerable numbers of Democrats will have to join Republicans in approving the measure since dozens of Republicans will vote against any spending plan.

Under internal rules House Republicans approved at the start of the Congress last year, the maneuver is not supposed to be used for any bill estimated to cost more than $100 billion unless it reduces spending to finance it. But a G.O.P. aide said that a spending bill — even one that would cost 10 times that — cannot run afoul of the rule because the Congressional Budget Office does not provide cost estimates for them.

Once the legislation is approved by the House, it faces a new set of hurdles in the Senate, which can usually be bypassed only if all 100 members agree — an unlikely event given conservative opposition to the spending package.

When the House finishes, Mr. Schumer will move as quickly as he can to bring the legislation to the floor. He will then take steps to limit debate and block amendments that could kill the agreement. Once that clock is started, the Senate must then wait at least a day to take up the motion to end debate on the package. If that passes, the Senate could consume up to 30 hours considering the bill, potentially pushing the debate beyond the weekend.

In exchange for allowing the process to move more quickly, members of the Senate’s right-wing Republican bloc are likely to demand the opportunity to offer some amendments as they did when the first spending package was passed. A combination of Republicans and Democrats defeated all of them and would need to do so again since approval of any amendment would require the measure to be sent back to the House.

One factor working in favor of speedier Senate passage is that both the Senate and the House are scheduled to leave on a two-week Easter break once the legislation is approved. The desire to leave town could diminish the opposition and allow the Senate to act quickly if the opponents accept that they have no real possibility of blocking its passage.

Should it become clear that the legislation was going to stall in the Senate as the shutdown deadline approached, Congress could also approve another short-term patch to buy more time. But Senate and House leaders see the end is near in the grueling slog to pass legislation to fund the government through September. They want to keep the pressure on.

And the last time Congress beat a Friday deadline to clear a major spending package earlier this month, President Biden did not sign it until the following day, technically allowing a brief shutdown that went unnoticed.

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