Government Barrels Toward Shutdown as House Funding Stopgap Bill Fails on Floor
Government Barrels Toward Shutdown as House Funding Stopgap Bill Fails on Floor

By Lawrence Wilson

The House of Representatives defeated a stopgap funding bill on Friday, dealing a blow to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as he attempted to forestall a possible government shutdown that is less than 48 hours away.

Twenty-one Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the legislation, bringing the final tally to 198–232.

Momentum in the funding debate now shifts to the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been moving a bipartisan CR through that chamber. Mr. Schumer has said the Senate would vote on its bill on Sept. 30. Mr. Schumer has all but guaranteed the bill’s passage as 26 Republicans have already supported advancing the measure.

However, the timing of the vote leaves precious little opportunity for the House to consider the Senate’s bill, which many Republicans are known to oppose.

McCarthy’s Gambit

Mr. McCarthy had gambled that he could bring reluctant Republicans to support the CR, known as the Continuing Appropriations and Border Security Enhancement Act, by including a number of border security provisions, a key concern for conservatives, and by first passing some appropriations bills through regular order.

The CR would have extended government funding through Oct. 31 with an 8 percent overall reduction in non-defense discretionary spending. It also included nearly all of H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act, which Republicans passed earlier this year but has not been taken up by the Senate.

Before reintroducing the bill, Republicans added the creation of a Federal Debt Commission, something long sought by a number of members from both parties.

Despite the bill’s enhancements for border security, a key issue among House Republicans, a number of the party’s fiscal hawks opposed the CR. Some were opposed to any form of continuing resolution, believing that would inevitably lead to the necessity of passing a last-minute omnibus spending bill that deprives them of the ability to vote on individual funding measures.

Others opposed the CR because it would continue, even for just one month, President Joe Biden’s spending priorities, including aid for the Ukraine war effort.

After nearly two weeks of negotiations, including several legislative setbacks, the speaker was able to pass three appropriations bills on Sept. 28.

Based on those victories, which came through “regular order,” which allows members to debate on and offer amendments to bills on the House floor before voting, Mr. McCarthy apparently hoped to win support for the CR from skittish hardliners.

“People who have concerns with CRs don’t want to invest in business as usual,” Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), chair of the Main Street Caucus, told the Epoch Times on Sept. 27. “Too often CRs have been used as a crutch to enable irresponsible spending.”

“I do think there are members who have opposed CRs in the past who, if they see that we’re going through a responsible and fiscally conservative process, we’ll understand that a stop-gap funding measure could be helpful in that process,” Mr. Johnson said.

That forecast turned out to be incorrect.

Democrats opposed the continuing resolution for what some members referred to as draconian. They also pointed to the fact that the Senate was at work on a bipartisan measure that would likely gain approval in the House.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called the House CR a “pointless charade with grave consequences for the American people.”

Differences in the Bills

The Senate’s CR is attached to a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. This bill would fund the government through Nov. 17 at current spending levels while adding $6.15 billion in funding for the war effort in Ukraine and $5.99 billion for domestic disaster relief.

An overwhelming bipartisan majority of senators have voted twice to advance the bill through the legislative process, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R-N.Y.) has all but guaranteed its passage. A final vote is expected in the Senate on Sept. 30.

Many House Republicans are skeptical of continued funding for Ukraine without greater accountability and oversight over how the funds are being used. As an apparent sweetener, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) has been working to include an amendment that would add provisions for enhanced U.S. border security.

If the Senate passes its CR, the two chambers will have very little time to reconcile the two bills.

In the House, Mr. McCarthy faces pressure from his caucus’s most conservative members to avoid passing legislation with help from Democrats, something that would certainly be needed on a compromise bill.

Possible Shutdown

Absent an extension of spending authority, a government shutdown will occur at midnight on Sept. 30.

That would mean the cessation of nonessential government services, which would affect about 30 percent of federal employees according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. Essential personnel, including members of the armed services, would be required to work without pay while a shutdown persists.

Social Security and Medicare benefits would continue. WIC and SNAP benefits would continue for a time but could run out in a long-term shutdown.

While essential government functions would continue, the shutdown would furlough tens of thousands of government employees while forcing essential personnel, such as members of the military, to work without pay.

Leaders in both parties see a shutdown as a political loser and are eager to avoid it. However, the Senate’s effort so far has the support of 77 senators including 26 Republicans.

“In past shutdowns, there have been warnings that if the shutdown continues for an extended period of time, the leftover funds that they have to administer and provide benefits . . . could end up running dry. So there is a real danger that if this goes on for more than a few weeks, we could see disruptions to those programs,” Shai Akabas of the Bipartisan Policy Center said during a Sept. 29 presentation.

In the short term, business across the country could be impacted as tens of thousands of federal employees, the majority of whom do not live in Washington, D.C., would be without paychecks beginning in the middle of October, according to Mr. Akabas. Food banks typically see a spike in demand during a government shutdown.

A long-term shutdown would have other implications as well, according to Mr. Akabas. For example, while air traffic controllers would remain on the job, training would be suspended for new controllers. Rail safety inspectors would also be sent home.

The most profound impact of a shutdown could be a further downgrade of the nation’s credit rating, signaling a lack of confidence in the country’s ability to manage its finances, including repaying loans, according to Mr. Akabas.

The credit rating agency Fitch downgraded the U.S. government’s top credit rating in August, citing repeated last-minute debt ceiling negotiations that call the government’s ability to pay its bills into question.

Spending disputes have resulted in 10 government shutdowns totaling 105 since 1981.

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