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House Speaker Johnson 'very optimistic' a government shutdown can be avoided

House Speaker Mike Johnson sounded optimistic about avoiding a government shutdown after a closely watched meeting at the White House between Washington's top decision-makers.

"We will get the government funded, and we’ll keep working on that," he told reporters.

Democrats echoed that optimism. But they also made it clear that another controversial short-term deal known as a "continuing resolution" may be needed to temporarily keep the government's lights running this week and ahead of another sizable March 8 deadline coming in 10 days.

"There are little back and forth on different issues," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. "But I don't think those are insurmountable."

Read more: How a government shutdown would impact your money: Student loans, Social Security, investments, and more

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27: U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with (L-R) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), on February 27, 2024 at the White House in Washington, DC. The president plans to discuss the urgency of legislation to keep federal funding going past midnight on Friday, as well as his requests for billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine and Israel. (Photo by Roberto Schmidt/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden speaks at a meeting on keeping the government open and his requests for billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine and Israel. (Roberto Schmidt/Getty Images) (Roberto Schmidt via Getty Images)

The meeting featured President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris as well as Johnson, Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.

Speaker Johnson didn’t delve into the topic of another short-term deal in his brief comments following the meeting but said, "we are very optimistic" a shutdown can be averted. He called the meetings — including a one-on-one session with the president — "frank and honest."

Left unsaid were the political challenges back on Capitol Hill that could await Johnson if he agrees to another temporary funding stopgap.

Previous rounds of brinksmanship saw lawmakers waiting until the last minute but ultimately using continuing resolutions to delay shutdowns in standoffs last October and November, as well as this January.

That pattern has led to rising unhappiness from Johnson's critics.

One of the most vocal is Rep. Chip Roy (R.-Texas) with the lawmaker recently criticizing Johnson as having "NO PLAN TO FIGHT" in a social media post. "Republicans are putting out the same tired excuses that we’ve been telling our voters for decades," he added.

Tuesday's Oval Office meeting was called to discuss both keeping the government open as well as foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel and came after two days where the chances of a government stoppage seemed to increase by the hour.

But even with the new optimism, federal departments from the VA to Agriculture to Transportation are still set to close their doors Friday at midnight if Congress doesn’t act. A much broader array of government services would then shutter on March 8 if the gridlock continues.

US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks to reporters after a meeting with US President Joe Biden and Congressional leadership at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 27, 2024. Biden is meeting with the congressional leaders in a bid to unlock billions of dollars in stalled emergency aid to Ukraine and avert a looming government shutdown at home. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks to reporters following the White House meeting. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images) (JIM WATSON via Getty Images)

What remains to be seen is whether Speaker Johnson's tone will continue in the days ahead in the face of ongoing discontent from his most conservative colleagues in the House of Representatives.

Roy and his allies have often seemed fine with a shutdown. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) even posted Tuesday he wouldn't support a deal with higher spending levels, "even if it means parts of the gov't temporarily shut down."

But those economic costs of a stoppage could be notable. Most pressingly, credit rating agencies have again and again cited dysfunction as a driving reason for their dimming views of US creditworthiness. Just this November, Moody's turned negative on the US but stopped short of a downgrade.

Biden himself stressed the economic consequences of a shutdown with a White House summary of the meeting, saying he told the group a "shutdown is unacceptable and would cause needless damage to hardworking families, our economy, and our national security."

Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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