Another test for Speaker Mike Johnson. Will he keep the government open?

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) listens as he waits for his turn to speak during a news briefing at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 2, 2023, in Washington, D.C. House Republican held a Conference meeting to discuss party agenda. (Alex Wong/Getty Images/TNS)

Once again, the federal government faces a shutdown of important services — only this time there are two precipices from which the nation will plunge if Congress doesn’t act. Under a complex short-term spending measure adopted in November, funding for some departments will run out on Jan. 19 while for other departments the deadline is Feb. 2. For Americans dependent on government services and federal paychecks, Congress must again pull the country back from the brink.

The good news is that congressional leaders have worked out a bipartisan deal, praised by President Joe Biden. The new agreement includes some concessions to Republicans, including a faster pace for $20 billion in budget cuts to the Internal Revenue Service.


Republican opposition to adequate resources for the IRS is counterproductive and rooted in a fantasy of an “army” of IRS agents menacing American citizens. But, just as Republicans must acknowledge the fact that this is a divided federal government, so must Democrats be willing to make compromises to avert a fiscal disaster.

The problem is that there probably isn’t enough time for Congress to enact the compromise through its regular procedures before the deadlines. The problem is that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is on record as saying “I’m done” with short-term continuing resolutions.

More ominously, the same hard-right Republicans who eventually ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy could make trouble for Johnson if he pursues the wise course of fiscal responsibility and compromise with Democrats. On Wednesday, several Republicans registered their displeasure with the spending deal by joining Democrats in voting to block debate on three unrelated bills.

In a further complication, some Republicans might try to use the threat of a government shutdown as leverage to impose restrictions on the entry of migrants at the southern border. Senators have been negotiating on a separate measure to bolster border security as part of a supplemental spending bill to provide aid to Ukraine and Israel. One topic under discussion is a tightening of the standards for the “credible fear” of persecution or torture used in initial interviews with migrants requesting asylum.

Biden has said he is open to“significant compromises” on border security. Given the apparent progress on the border issue, there is no reason to entangle it with the attempt to forestall a shutdown.

Johnson, like McCarthy, has tried to appease hard-right Republicans by supporting a baseless impeachment inquiry into Biden while showing some sense of responsibility by accepting a bipartisan compromise on federal spending. If he is serious about putting the nation first, he will do everything necessary to avoid a government shutdown — including supporting a short-term funding bill that would buy time for Congress to implement the bipartisan spending agreement.