Speaker Mike Johnson is facing many of the same challenges his predecessor did as he looks for a way to avoid a government shutdown that will be acceptable to his deeply divided conference.
House Republicans on Tuesday grasped for a way to avert a government shutdown amid deep divides in their ranks over federal spending, debating how to strike a compromise with the Democratic-led Senate and President Biden just 10 days away from the funding deadline.
There was little movement in either the House or the Senate as lawmakers sorted through a litany of possible funding mechanisms, none of which enjoy strong support in either chamber. They found themselves back in the same predicament they confronted in September, when Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown just hours before the deadline.
With the House under the stewardship of a new, untested leader, Speaker Mike Johnson, lawmakers in both parties were uncertain what he might do.
“It’s all as clear as mud,” Representative Drew Ferguson, Republican of Georgia, said as he emerged from a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol where Mr. Johnson briefed his members on a series of potential spending strategies.
Just a month ago, hard-right, anti-spending Republicans ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy after he narrowly pushed through legislation to avoid a shutdown and extend the federal funding deadline to Nov. 17 using Democratic votes.
With that temporary funding measure set to expire in days, Mr. Johnson appears set on avoiding a repeat of the circumstances that doomed his predecessor. That means he will need to corral nearly all Republicans to pass a government funding measure, a considerable feat given his party’s resistance to federal spending.
“We certainly want to avoid a government shutdown,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s a dangerous time around the world right now. We recognize that, and we’re doing our job.”
Mr. Johnson said House Republicans would reveal their plan to fund the government “in short order.”
While the hard-right Republicans who ousted Mr. McCarthy say they are willing to give the considerably more conservative Mr. Johnson more latitude than his predecessor, the task in some ways has become more fraught. Now in addition to facing yet another shutdown scenario, Congress is also debating a separate request from Mr. Biden for $105 billion in emergency national security aid for Israel and Ukraine.
At a closed-door meeting underneath the Capitol on Tuesday morning, Mr. Johnson presented a menu of spending strategies to his conference. It included passing a temporary measure that would extend government funding into early 2024 that contains a handful of conservative policies and negotiating a deal directly with the Senate.
Some hard-right conservatives have backed a third option, which Mr. Johnson also discussed, that would fund some government agencies for only a few weeks, and others for a longer period.
The discussion amounted to a concession that House Republicans’ preferred way of funding the government — through passing a dozen individual spending bills — was no longer feasible with a deadline less than two weeks away, and after they squandered three weeks fighting over who should be speaker after Mr. McCarthy’s ouster.
They are still hoping to pass as many spending bills as possible to put themselves in a stronger bargaining position for negotiations with the Senate. But Mr. Johnson has faced the same headwinds Mr. McCarthy did in passing the funding measures, with some politically vulnerable Republicans unwilling to support bills saddled with deep cuts and conservative policy riders.
“The bottom line is that we have a speaker who wants to get this done, who understands that we’re going to need a little bit more time,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, a top appropriator. “And then the question is, what’s the best way?”
The idea of a staggered spending deal met a chilly response from members of both parties in the Senate, where attempts to find a spending compromise have largely stalled as lawmakers wait for House Republicans to put down a marker for what they are willing to support.
“It seems to me that you would just constantly be having programs and agencies stop and go, stop and go,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee. “And so I think that would increase the difficulty.”
The fight over keeping the government open was running parallel to Congress’s consideration of the White House’s emergency funding request for Israel, Ukraine and other national security needs. The House last week passed a partisan bill to fund Israel that is dead on arrival in the Senate, but the Senate has yet to present a counterproposal.
At the same time, top Senate Republicans were digging in against advancing any aid to Israel and Ukraine that did not include significant immigration policy changes and money, even though Democrats led by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, quickly dismissed their initial offer as unacceptable.
“Making Ukraine funding conditional on the hard-right border policies that can’t ever pass Congress is a huge mistake by our Republican colleagues,” Mr. Schumer said. “By tying Ukraine to border, Republicans are sadly making it harder — much harder — for us to help Ukraine in their fight against Putin.”
Senate Republicans’ stance was something of a change from a group that had been mainly supportive of maintaining aid for Ukraine.
“If I were him, I would not underestimate the level of resistance he will run into if the issue of the border isn’t addressed,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, said of Mr. Schumer. “We are just not going to get members who are willing to vote for any kind of supplemental package that doesn’t include that.”