While the House of Representatives successfully passed the military construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) appropriations bill, none of the 12 annual appropriations bills necessary to keep the government running have made their way to President Joe Biden’s desk. Failure to pass these bills or enact a short-term funding measure like a continuing resolution (CR) would result in a full or partial government shutdown on October 1, leading to furloughs for nonessential federal employees and unpaid work for essential personnel.
The divisions within House Speaker Kevin McCarthy‘s ideologically diverse caucus persist, posing significant challenges for Republican leaders. The divide is most apparent between right-wing members of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), including Reps. Matt Gaetz, Bob Good, Ralph Norman, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, and moderate lawmakers like Rep. Mike Lawler. Lawler represents one of the few Republicans representing districts won by President Biden in 2020. HFC members advocate for deeper spending cuts and other concessions, which moderates find unpalatable, given their representation of more politically balanced districts.
The divisions extend to various issues, including funding for Ukraine, the proper process for passing appropriations bills, top-line spending figures, and the wisdom of passing a CR. Some HFC members demand that leadership present top-line figures for all 12 appropriations bills before voting on the remaining 11. However, the limited time available makes producing these figures a daunting challenge.
McCarthy and other Republicans in the caucus propose passing a month-long CR to keep the government operational while allowing more time for negotiations.
To address the situation, McCarthy and other Republicans in the caucus propose passing a month-long CR to keep the government operational while allowing more time for negotiations. Rep. Byron Donalds, serving as an intermediary between the HFC and the more moderate Main Street Caucus, presented a CR proposal. This proposal also included provisions for a comprehensive border security bill that excludes mandating E-Verify, a federal system for checking the immigration status of employees. While supported by some members, like Rep. Chip Roy, it faced staunch opposition from Gaetz and other HFC members who reject any CR and demand quantifiable figures for all 12 must-pass spending bills.
Despite initial optimism earlier in the week, with indications of progress on key issues within the Republican conference, the situation took a bleak turn when the defense bill, which had previously failed, suffered another setback. Even a motion to reconsider the bill was tabled due to a lack of support, leading to McCarthy adjourning Congress for the rest of the week.
When Congress reconvenes on September 26, there will be just four days left to avert a shutdown, with little hope of garnering support for any such measure.
A significant point of contention in the spending negotiations involves funding for Ukraine, with many Republicans arguing that too much money has been allocated without sufficient oversight. Democrats have voted unilaterally against the Republican defense appropriations bill this year, citing culture war issues and substantial cuts to non-defense spending as reasons for their opposition. Meanwhile, Republicans criticize Democrats for imposing extreme left-wing ideology on military personnel.
Despite provisions in the House National Defense Appropriations bill prohibiting funding for a Pentagon office dealing with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), the impasse over the bill continues. McCarthy has limited votes to spare in passing the defense bill, prompting his initial decision to remove $300 million in Ukraine funding, which he later reversed due to procedural challenges.
Underpinning the spending debate is the persistent threat to McCarthy’s speakership.
Underpinning the spending debate is the persistent threat to McCarthy’s speakership. At the start of the 118th Congress, McCarthy secured the gavel after multiple rounds of voting but made significant concessions to win support from the right-wing of his caucus. This included allowing a rule change that allows a single House member to propose a motion to vacate the speaker’s seat, which would trigger a full House vote to determine McCarthy’s leadership. Now, McCarthy must tread carefully with the right flank of his caucus, who could remove him from power if he fails to meet their core demands.
The rule change effectively forces McCarthy to work solely within his party, as making a deal with Democrats would likely lead to political turmoil. Additionally, McCarthy can only lose three Republican votes on any measure for it to pass.
As lawmakers return to Capitol Hill, they face the looming specter of a government shutdown with no clear resolution in sight for this ongoing political stalemate.
–Metro Voice and wire services