WASHINGTON — Congress this week failed to find a way to avoid a shutdown of the federal government at the end of the month as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struggled to win support from his party’s right flank for a stop-gap spending bill.
Even if the U.S. House approved that short-term spending bill, it would contain controversial provisions and violate an agreement on spending that would doom it in the U.S. Senate.
The frustration over the specter of a shutdown that could start Oct. 1 and would end a number of government services and hurt the U.S. economy was palpable, and there was plenty of finger pointing.
Republicans blamed Democrats for what they said was an unwillingness to cut spending and Democrats accused Republicans of violating an agreement on spending levels set during a June deal on the debt limit and of attaching objectionable measures to any short-term fix that would give Congress more time to negotiate a budget.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that budget bills originate in the U.S. House. So, members of the U.S. Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, were dismayed at the chaos in the lower chamber.
“I think all of you know I’m not a fan of government shutdowns. I’ve seen a few of them over the years,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at his weekly news conference with reporters. “They never have produced a policy change, and they’ve always been a loser for Republicans politically.”
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-6th District, spent the week calling House members to his office on the first floor of the U.S. Capitol, huddling with McCarthy in the speaker’s office — and avoiding the media.
“It’s a work in progress,” was all Emmer said as he rushed out of McCarthy’s office Wednesday and a group of reporters chased him, futilely calling out questions about the ongoing negotiations.
As the House GOP’s chief vote counter, Emmer suffered embarrassing defeats when procedural motions on a defense spending bill failed twice this week.
The bill failed because all Democrats objected to conservative policy riders attached to the defense bill, and a handful of conservative Republicans voted against the motion. The Republicans wanted more money cut from the Pentagon and the Democrats object to conservative policy riders on the bill.
After the vote failed for the second time on Thursday, Emmer blamed the defeat of the motion on “a very small group of people, and they have specific issues that are important to them.”
After the failure to move the defense bill forward, GOP leaders abandoned their efforts to win approval of a short-term spending bill and sent members home. They plan to regroup next week and try a different strategy — to try to pass several individual spending bills with the hopes that would mollify Freedom Caucus members and lead to approval of a stop gap measure that would avoid a shutdown. But the new strategy has been given little chance of success.
Meanwhile, Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District, introduced a bill this week that would halt the pay of members of Congress if a shutdown occurs and more than 800,000 federal workers are left without pay. Under a shutdown, most federal workers are furloughed and others, deemed “essential” must show up for work even if they won’t receive a paycheck.
Craig called her legislation the “My Constituents Cannot Afford Rebellious Tantrums, Handle Your (MCCARTHY) Shutdown Act.”
“It’s obnoxious that members of Congress get paid while thousands of federal workers get furloughed,” Craig said.
Similar legislation has been introduced after previous shutdowns, but none of those bills was passed by Congress. However, during the last shutdown of the federal government, which started at the end of 2018 and lasted about 35 days, more than 100 members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate voluntarily gave up their pay, some donating the money to charity.
Rank-and-file members of Congress are paid $174,000 a year, a salary that has not changed since 2009.
Centrist Democrats try to forge strategy to avoid shutdown
A small group of centrist Democrats, including some belonging to the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which counts Rep. Dean Phillips among its members, held secret talks this week with several of McCarthy’s close GOP allies about a last-ditch effort to avoid a shutdown.
The centrist Democrats, who also belong to the New Democrat Coalition, are proposing McCarthy agree to a compromise short-term spending bill that would garner enough Democratic support to offset the expected loss of the votes of ultraconservative Freedom Caucus members.
The compromise bill would likely fund the federal government at the current level for a month or so and contain disaster money, Ukraine aid and some small-scale border policies.
But if McCarthy were to agree to this type of compromise, his speakership would be challenged and he would likely lose his gavel since there’s a slim, five-vote GOP majority in the U.S. House.
Phillips, D-3rd District, had proposed helping McCarthy if he should face a “motion to vacate” the speakership when the speaker was crafting a deal with the White House in June to lift the debt ceiling.
Phillips pulled back that offer after McCarthy announced last week the U.S. House would begin an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. But Phillips said McCarthy could win back his support “if he does what’s right for the nation.”
“I would be the first to say we would be there to protect his seat if he would do what is right,” Phillips said of his centrist Democratic allies. “I understand the position he is in. But these are times when people have to make a choice. You pander to the few or you take care of the many.”
The group of centrists met on Wednesday evening to discuss their proposal. Phillips did not attend that meeting, however. His office said he had a previous engagement.
Omar attracts a GOP challenger
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, has drawn her first Republican challenger this week: Dalia Al-Aqidi, a journalist from Iraq who says she’s a “pro-American, secular Muslim.”
Omar is a Somali refugee and one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress.
In a statement, Al-Aqidi said that as a journalist she posed some questions to Omar in 2019 that were never answered. So, she decided to move to Minneapolis to “better understand the people who voted for her,” and fell in love with the city.
Omar has attracted several challengers and possible challengers to her reelection bid next year. But until this week, they were all Democrats.
Tim Peterson, an Air Force veteran from Minneapolis, and attorney Sarah Gad have announced their candidacy for the 5th District seat.
Don Samuels, who narrowly lost to Omar last year, has also said he’s considering a rematch. And the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been trying to persuade Minneapolis City Council member LaTrisha Vetaw, and state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion to challenge Omar.
Your questions and comments
I heard from a few of you this week, so I thought I’d experiment with responding here so that other readers can learn from your questions and comments. I can’t promise I’ll be able to do this every week, or that I’ll be able to respond to every single inquiry. Let me know what you think of this experiment by sending me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or contacting my editors (email@example.com).
- My story about the looming federal government shutdown attracted a lot of readers, including one who had travel plans to visit national parks. Are they for sure going to remain open, the reader asked? As described in the story, my source at the Brookings Institution said they would be open but that park facilities would be closed, as was the case during the last shutdown. However, the Office of Management and Budget is expected to provide shutdown details next week. I’ll keep my eye on developments on this issue — there’s a lot in flux right now.
- One reader questioned the wording I used in describing the politics around the shutdown. I wrote: “In budget negotiations, the most conservative members of the Republican-controlled U.S. House are making demands that the Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate and White House are certain to reject.” The reader said I was placing blame only on Republicans and that an alternative sentence could have been: “In budget negotiations, the most liberal members of the Senate and House are making demands that the Republican-controlled House is certain to reject.” I certainly understand the reader’s point of view. Here’s why I wrote it the way I did: The U.S. Constitution says all spending bills must originate in the House. Therefore, the House, and whichever party controls it — right now it’s the Republicans — is responsible for coming up with a bill that can pass both chambers.
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