I will say this for House Democrats: At least when they fight among themselves, it tends to be over the details of a certain policy or piece of legislation that could have a real impact on the real Americans. That’s absolutely not the case when it comes to the endless series of tantrums, infighting and grandstanding exhibited by House Republicans this week. Instead, they argue and risk a government shutdown, over personal grievances and bills that have no chance of being signed into law.
There is just over a week left to avoid a federal shutdown on October 1st. Ideally, Congress would pass the 12 spending bills it needs to make things work before then — but this Congress hasn’t exactly been great at this most basic of its tasks. The House passed only one of these bills; The Senate pulled all 12 bills out of committee on a bipartisan basis, but none have yet been passed in full.
Leaders in both chambers know that a short-term spending bill, called a continuing resolution, is necessary to keep the government running.
The House was expected to pass another such bill on Tuesday, providing about $800 billion in defense funding. But that proved impossible thanks to a group of five renegade conservatives who voted against the “special rule” that would bring the bill to debate, causing it to fail by a vote of 212 to 214. second time this year that a rule, which generally applies only to majority party votes, has failed. The failure of the June vote — which involved a bill regarding, among other things, protections for gas stoves — was the first time a rule had failed in two decades.
Both cases were aimed at protesting a deal that Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., made the last time he held office: that is, cornered, with far-right conservatives threatening his job and faced with the likelihood that responsibility for an impending crisis would fall squarely on his shoulders. Managing to avoid a debt ceiling disaster, McCarthy and President Joe Biden agreed on a set of spending limits for the next two years. But members of the House Freedom Caucus insisted those caps were maximum, rather than main annual spending levels. Since then, group members have pressured McCarthy to renege on the deal and agree to even deeper cuts, down to pre-Covid spending levels.
Leaders in both chambers know that a short-term spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, will be needed to keep the government running. One of the staunchest ultraconservatives, Rep. Chip Roy of the Republican Party of Texas, helped broker an intraparty deal with the GOP’s more moderate Main Street Caucus that would fund the government for a additional month in exchange for an approximately 8% reduction in non-governmental spending. -expenses related to defense or veterans during this period. You’d think Roy, one of the most prominent members of the Freedom Caucus, would be able to convince enough of his hard-line colleagues to get on board with this bill, right?
Fake. About a dozen – more than twice the number who voted against the special rule – are opposed to upholding the resolution, even though it also includes other far-right priorities, such as a bill on border security that would revive the former president’s construction. Donald Trump’s border wall and making his “Remain in Mexico” policy into law. And McCarthy’s attempt to appease them by announcing an impeachment inquiry against Biden also failed.
The simplest solution would be for McCarthy to gather enough votes from his party to propose a clear, continuing resolution that would do nothing other than maintain government funding at current levels, which Democrats could also support. There are a lot of vulnerable Republicans from swing districts who are currently very angry at the far-right bloc for their stunts and who expressed their anger publicly last week. Like Rep. Mike Lawler, a New York Republican who won his seat in a district Biden won in 2020, I presented it to journalists on Tuesday: “These people cannot define a victory. They don’t know how to take yes for an answer. It’s a clown show.
Even the usual theory of getting something – anything! — crossing the line would give McCarthy leverage to show he can pass a bill on GOP votes, which seems wrong here.
But even this strategy would require more political courage than McCarthy has demonstrated so far. Keeping the government open with Democratic votes would likely trigger Chekov’s gun who has been sitting on the House dais since he first won the speaker’s gavel: a motion to vacate the chair, that is, a vote on whether to remove McCarthy from the presidency. He almost dared Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to file the damn petition if they’re serious about it, but it’s unclear if this newfound bravado will hold up for long.
Look, it would be one thing if this unforeseen problem fell into McCarthy’s lap, or if the stalled bills were viable options for actually solving the current problem. But no, they’re just courier bills which are giving everyone an ulcer right now. The “compromise” resolution that McCarthy is working to pass is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and even if it wasn’t, it would be dead on arrival if it reached Biden’s desk . It wouldn’t even garner much support from Senate Republicans, who would rather pass a resolution that includes things like disaster relief funding or additional military funding for Ukraine.
So even if he manages to get votes on a continuing resolution by stuffing it with conservative goodies, the Senate will amend and send it back, putting him in control of the ball again. Politico reported Tuesday that the moderate faction of the Republican Party was considering using a discharge petition to force a vote on a clean continuing resolution, thereby bypassing McCarthy’s leadership team. But that seems almost as long as a bill passed before a shutdown.
That means the House is busy tying itself over what should be a face-saving measure. We haven’t even begun the real negotiations that divided government requires. Even the usual theory of getting something – anything! — crossing the line would give McCarthy leverage to show he can pass a bill on GOP votes, which seems wrong here. The fractures within the GOP caucus will still be there once these talks take place, leaving the House in the same position it is now. Rather than attacking the White House or the Senate majority, Republicans are busy destroying themselves politically. Democrats don’t even need to lift a finger.