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US government heads for shutdown as Republicans squabble over spending

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The US government is heading for a shutdown from next weekend, as lawmakers look increasingly unlikely to strike a budget deal in the face of hardline opposition from the right wing of the Republican party.

Legislators have just one week to come up with a spending plan that can make it through both chambers of Congress — no easy feat with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives by a slim majority and Democrats holding the Senate by a similarly razor-thin margin.

If there is no agreement by midnight next Saturday, millions of federal workers will begin to be furloughed, bringing all but “essential” operations of the government to a halt.

A protracted shutdown could have ripple effects across the US economy, denting business and consumer confidence when there are already fears that a recession is coming.

The latest budget stand-off stems from a sharp divide within the Republican party over taxing and spending, including whether to sign off on a large additional aid package for Ukraine.

The Republican infighting also threatens the leadership of Kevin McCarthy, the California lawmaker who became Speaker of the House on a record 15th ballot in January.

McCarthy defied critics when he brokered an agreement in May that avoided an unprecedented default on US government debt. But now the Speaker is facing a tougher challenge as he struggles to satisfy a right flank of his own party that has torpedoed several of his attempts in recent days to continue funding the government.

The right wing of the House Republican conference has been emboldened by former president Donald Trump, who has cheered the possibility of a shutdown, writing on his Truth Social social media platform: “Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Government . . . They failed on the debt limit, but they must not fail now. Use the power of the purse and defend the Country!”

Trump presided over two government shutdowns during his time in the White House. The second, stemming from a dispute over his plans to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, lasted 35 days, making it the longest shutdown in US history.

Even if McCarthy is able to satisfy the demands of his most rightwing members, any deal that is passed by the House must also be signed off by the Democrat-controlled Senate — and Republican hardliners have shown no willingness to support a bipartisan compromise.

Several, including Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, have suggested that if McCarthy were to push a bipartisan deal, they would not only oppose the measure but call a “motion to vacate”, or vote of no confidence, in the Speaker in an attempt to remove him from his post.

The White House has insisted that funding the government is Congress’s responsibility, and blamed House Republicans for the dysfunction. But the Biden administration has also begun gearing up for a likely shutdown, with the Office of Management and Budget drawing up contingency plans with federal agencies.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday that Congress needed to do its job.

“The best plan is for House Republicans to stop their partisan political play, and not do this to hurt Americans across the country.”

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