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Wed, Jun

Time is Running Out: Recalcitrant Republicans – They're At It Again

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - A continuing resolution passed on September 30, that funded the U.S. government for an additional 45 days as the new fiscal year began, is about to run out.

The hope was that a full budget – based on the Senate bills which were written in accordance with an agreement reached by Biden and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy back in May – would be worked out and passed during that 45-day period.

Foot-dragging on Senate appropriations negotiations will make the November 17th deadline impossible to achieve.

And in the House, half of that time was wasted tossing out Kevin McCarthy as Speaker and replacing him with Mike Johnson.

While Johnson said he wanted to avoid a shutdown, he is undoubtedly aware his predecessor was ejected by the radicals after agreeing to a bipartisan continuing resolution which may force him into more extreme positions than the more mainstream members of his party could bear.

If a shutdown is to be avoided, another continuing resolution must be passed by the end of the week while a full budget is worked out.

Wall Street pundits seem hopeful that another short-term spending bill giving lawmakers more time to negotiate will pass with no muss, no fuss even though there has been little movement in resolving the total dollar amount, let alone passing and reconciling House and Senate versions of the twelve bills generated by the respective appropriations subcommittees necessary to fund federal programs through the end of September 2024.

Johnson’s staggered proposal, released over the weekend, would continue funding operations for some government agencies until January 19 and others through February 2 to allow Congress to negotiate the full 2024 budget. This does not address the automatic 1% cut agreed to in May’s debt limit deal nor does it take into account the demands of his party’s coterie of fringe elements who are insisting on concessions to which the Senate and President would never agree.

Nice try, Mike.

Republicans do have that majority in Congress but it is very narrow. Many more moderate members are less than eager to create chaos because in less than a year they will have to answer to an electorate with interests far removed from the political and social posturing of extremists. To constituents who will disproportionately suffer from a shutdown.

Senate debates and voting on appropriation bills have inched along incrementally, with nine still to be addressed after passing a bipartisan combined bill for Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and Transport, Housing and Urban Development at the beginning of the month.

Late last week, Chuck Schumer took the first procedural step for the Senate to pass a temporary extension and avoid shutdown. And he called for the Republicans in the House to proceed in a bipartisan manner and avoid “Hard-right proposals, hard-right slash and cuts, hard-right poison pills that have zero support from Democrats [and] will only make a shutdown more likely.”

The House has so far passed bills for seven of the twelve budgetary sectors, all along partisan lines which are unlikely to garner enough support in the Democrat-controlled Senate to allow for a simple reconciliation process.

While government can continue to function relatively normally under a continuing resolution, planning for such a potential government shutdown as deadlines approach takes time and energy away from the real work that must be done – including the complexity of budgeting in a divided government – and increases disruption in a country already beset by economic storms.

Adding to the challenge is the danger of disrupting the military during this time of heightened geopolitical tensions.

 Delay and uncertainty around pay for many other government employees is a major consideration: Although back pay is legally guaranteed for most, in an era where too many Americans even with decent salaries live paycheck to paycheck, cashflow issues will create a major impacts.

To incentivize quick progress on the full budget, the text of the Fiscal Responsibility Act raising the debt limit included automatic 1% cuts to the government’s entire budget if a full budget is not passed by New Year’s Eve.

Not what a nation facing economic and environmental disputes at home and international crises abroad needs.

While the Senate passed funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, chemical cleanup programs and military family housing with strong bipartisan support, the House version squeaked through with Democrats opposing policy changes limiting access to abortion and cutting funding for military family housing, setting up a confrontation during the reconciliation process.

The Senate also passed funding for Funding for the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, as well as a variety of food and nutrition programs for low-income people, but the House Republicans failed to ram through a bill when moderate Republicans refused to back slashing programs for rural development and conservation efforts.

When New York Republicans in the House categorically opposed cuts to Amtrak train funding, leadership pulled their bill covering Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, the third of the Senate bills that passed.

One bill the House has approved, again along party lines, for the Department of Defense has passed out of committee in the Senate but has not come up for a vote.

This will almost certainly be an area of contention during reconciliation due to both strong opposition by a majority of American citizens to the Biden administration’s support for the Israeli attacks on Gaza and concerns by conservative members of the House because their committee bill did not cut enough spending. 

The same split applies to funding for the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for energy and water development programs, as well as the Department of the Interior with its politically-charged Environmental Protection Agency, the even more incendiary Department of Homeland Security, and the country’s international operations, teeing up an even more bellicose reconciliation. 

One would think that the funding of the government itself would be pretty inoffensive – money for staff offices, maintenance of the Capitol-complex, and for the Library of Congress and nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office – but no. Same partisan deal in the House, same inaction in the Senate.

And the abortion issue meant the House wouldn’t even vote on funds for the Department of the Treasury and a series of independent agencies. Sigh. 

And the same recalcitrant Republicans have dug in their heels over the Department of Commerce which includes the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Justice – gah!

Needless to say, there has been a lot of vituperative discussion and little agreement on funding for the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor, the Social Security Administration and the National Labor Relations Board.

So we can now look forward to another week of aggressive posturing and a holiday season flavored with more of the same.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)