Congress shutdown clock reset — but still ticking | Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Congress shutdown clock reset — but still ticking

Thanks to a weekend rally resulting in a short-term budget deal, lawmakers have until mid-November to sort out their budget squabbles.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Thousands of federal employees returned to work Monday, surmounting fears that a deadlocked Congress would trigger a government shutdown over the weekend, thanks to a last-minute spending deal struck between moderate Republicans and Democrats.

The stopgap budget, a compromise bill that keeps the government open for 45 days at current funding levels, averted the immediate threat of a painful and costly shutdown, but it doesn’t spell the end of Congress’ fiscal woes. Lawmakers must now grapple with deep political divisions on spending policy — and the possibility of a Republican revolt that could upend House leadership.

At the center of both issues is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who led the GOP’s efforts to negotiate the short-term budget patch, known as a continuing resolution, with his Democrat colleagues.

The deal followed days of squabbling between the Republican leader and the right flank of his caucus, many of whom refused to back any stopgap spending bill, reasoning that Congress should focus instead on passing a package of budget legislation for the 2024 fiscal year.

Some GOP lawmakers said they would support a continuing resolution, but only if it advanced an array of right-wing policy objectives, including language from a House-passed border security bill and an end to U.S. funding for Ukraine. Even if such legislation were to clear the GOP-run lower chamber, it would likely have been dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority.

McCarthy’s bipartisan spending deal, unveiled Saturday just hours before the shutdown was scheduled to begin, abandoned most of those demands. Democrats reluctantly agreed to back the plan, which caps Ukraine funding, but otherwise was largely a “clean” continuing resolution without additional policy conditions.

The measure passed the House on a 335-91 vote Saturday, with 209 Democrats and 126 Republicans backing the bill. Ninety Republicans and just one Democrat voted against the continuing resolution. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation, 88-9.

The speaker’s decision to come to the table spurred a wave of criticism from right wing Republicans. North Carolina Congressman Dan Bishop, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and a longtime critic of McCarthy, called the continuing resolution a “catastrophic failure of leadership.”

“The [House Minority Leader Hakeem] Jeffries-McCarthy CR kicks the can down the road yet again, extending the uniparty status quo that is destroying America,” Bishop said Saturday in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “We must pass the twelve individual appropriations bills and break the swamp fever.”

Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde complained that the stopgap budget reinforced “bloated spending levels,” pointing out Saturday that the bill enjoyed more support among Democrats than his GOP colleagues.

“Tells you everything you need to know,” Clyde said.

In defending the stopgap budget, McCarthy dinged his GOP colleagues for their obstructionism and said he took the necessary action to avoid a government shutdown.

“There has to be an adult in the room,” he said at a press conference Saturday.

Yet the speaker’s compromise stoked the smoldering flames of rebellion among some of McCarthy’s most strident detractors, namely Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Gaetz has for months criticized the speaker’s leadership. He announced Sunday that he would file a motion this week to strip McCarthy of the role. The procedural move is part of a deal reportedly made between the McCarthy and right wing Republicans as he ascended to the speakership.

“Kevin McCarthy is going to get his wish,” Gaetz said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “I don’t think the ‘adult in the room’ would allow America to sit atop a $33 trillion debt … and I don’t think the ‘adult in the room’ would lie to House conservatives.”

The Florida congressman said McCarthy had reneged on promises to right wing Republicans earlier this year to clamp down on federal spending and push Congress to consider single-subject spending bills rather than a package of appropriations known as an omnibus.

Gaetz was expected to unveil his motion to vacate the speakership during floor remarks Monday afternoon. However, the lawmaker instead threatened to take such action later this week if McCarthy refuses to shed light on what he characterized as a "secret side deal" between the speaker and the White House concerning funding for Ukraine.

"It is becoming increasingly clear who the speaker of the House works for, and it's not the Republican conference," Gaetz said.

Hanging a motion to vacate over McCarthy's head, the Florida Republican said that information about the purported Ukraine deal — the existence of which has not been confirmed — would have implications on any action to strip his leadership.

"Members of the Republican party might vote differently on a motion to vacate if they heard what the speaker had to share with us about his secret side deal with Joe Biden," Gaetz said.

To get his motion through the House, the Floridan congressman would likely need Democrat support. Some lawmakers, such as New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have already said they would vote to oust McCarthy.

Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie warned Sunday that removing the speaker would be “a bad idea that will lead to worse outcomes for conservatives.”

Amid the political rifts forming among the GOP caucus, Congress must still work to pass a federal budget, or another continuing resolution, before the current stopgap expires on or around Nov. 15. Many right wing Republicans have already said they would not support an omnibus budget, and that Congress should individually consider each of the 12 appropriations bills currently in a holding pattern in both the House and Senate.

If lawmakers fail to reach a consensus, a government shutdown could be in the cards once again.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
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