Shutdown closer than ever as budget talks tread water in Congress | Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Shutdown closer than ever as budget talks tread water in Congress

A deal to fund the government remains out of reach as House Republicans continue to squabble over terms.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Fears of a government shutdown are sure to reach a fever pitch this week as Republican leadership scrambles to hammer out a deal that would keep federal services funded through the end of the fiscal year Saturday.

The GOP gridlock has persisted despite efforts by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to reach a consensus with his party’s right wing, which has so far refused to budge on its demands for radical spending cuts and a laundry list of conservative policy objectives.

A government shutdown, which occurs if Congress is unable to pass a federal budget, would leave many federal programs without funding for the upcoming year. It would also put thousands of federal workers on furlough, holding their pay until lawmakers can approve a spending plan.

Traditionally, Congress has been able to sidestep costly and painful shutdowns by passing a short-term budget patch, known as a continuing resolution. This stopgap budget temporarily holds federal funding at current levels.

But some Republican lawmakers have said such a strategy is a non-starter this time around, arguing that Congress should instead vote on a package of appropriations bills that have for weeks been in a holding pattern in the House and Senate.

“The way to fund the government is not by doing it the same way Congress has since the mid-90s, where it’s one up or down vote on the entire government all at once,” said Florida Republican Matt Gaetz in a Sunday post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “We should have separate single-subject spending bills.”

Gaetz has lobbied hard against passing a continuing resolution, a position that has put him at odds with Republican leadership. The lawmaker has also spoken out against the idea of an omnibus budget — a spending bill that rolls all of the government’s funding into one document.

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Gaetz seemed ambivalent towards the possibility of a government shutdown this week.

“If the Department[s] of Labor and Education have to shut down for a few days as we get their appropriations in line, that’s certainly not something that is optimal,” the Florida Republican said, “but I think it’s better than continuing on the current path we’re on to America’s financial ruin.”

Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs echoed that sentiment Friday, telling C-SPAN that a government shutdown is “really a pause in nonessential federal spending.”

Complicating things further are demands from some congressional Republicans that any spending bill include language from border security legislation passed in the House this year, and that such legislation ax funding for Ukraine.

Speaker McCarthy, meanwhile, sought to put on a stoic face even as negotiations faltered, saying that he is not giving up.

“I think we’ll be able to work through this,” the speaker told MSNBC Sunday, “and at the end of the day, get there.”

However, McCarthy also took aim at his party’s budget holdouts, arguing that they were “trying to get a person into a shutdown.”

“It’s almost like they want to walk you into a shutdown and then blame you for the shutdown,” he said.

With a possible continuing resolution dead in the water, McCarthy is quickly running out of options to avoid a worst-case scenario. It’s unlikely that both houses of Congress will be able to work through the 12 separate appropriations bills needed to fully fund the government for 2024.

The speaker could also choose to reach across the aisle, corralling moderate Republicans and Democrats to get a short-term budget patch across the finish line — but the GOP’s right flank has made it clear that such a move would mean the end of McCarthy’s leadership.

McCarthy last week attempted to pull his right flank back under the party tent with a compromise budget patch. The measure would have funded the government through Oct. 31, all the while slashing non-defense spending by nearly 8% and forcing through parts of the GOP’s border security bill.

Despite those concessions, Republicans quickly pulled the budget compromise from the House Rules Committee after it became clear they didn’t have the votes.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats are on the offensive, looking to pin the blame for a potential government shutdown squarely on Republicans.

“Extreme MAGA Republicans are determined to shutdown the government this week,” said House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in a post on X. “House Democrats are working hard to stop them from once again hurting the American people.”

“This is what it looks like when the GOP is in charge," said Pennsylvania Congressman Brendan Boyle. “Chaos and destruction.”

The government last shut down in 2018, under then-President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress. It was the longest shutdown in U.S. history, lasting 34 days.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
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