Happy holidays! It’s time for one of the most cherished traditions of These Times We Live In: the race to fund the government and prevent a partial shutdown (and get Congress home for another recess). Congress faces a Friday deadline to pass a new government funding bill or kick the can down the road another few days, and negotiators said they saw some progress over the weekend.
The progress was enough that Democrats dropped a plan to introduce their own funding plan as a way to pressure Republicans on Monday. Democrats were also thinking of introducing a one-year continuing resolution as part of the same pressure campaign. But Sen. Pat Leahy, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, “feels that sufficient progress in negotiations took place over the weekend to delay the introduction of the omnibus appropriations bill for the time being,” an aide said over the weekend. “Bipartisan and bicameral negotiations continue.”
The fiscal year began Oct. 1, with Congress passing a stopgap measure at the last minute that got us to this point: another last-minute rush that will likely lead to another stopgap measure that might finally be replaced by an actual funding bill as members of Congress look at the approach of Christmas and decide they really do want to get home.
The sticking point is, of course, that Republicans object to plans to fund anything other than the military. Democrats and Republicans have agreed on a 10% increase to the defense budget, bringing it to $858 billion, but Republicans want Democrats to slash $26 billion in nondefense spending off of their proposal—and they are including funding for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits as nondefense spending.
One thing under discussion, though, might be a weakened version of the expanded child tax credit that slashed child poverty by 40% in 2021. The White House is signaling openness to a work requirement and means-testing favored by conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. To be clear, those would be terrible changes to the policy, but it would be a something-is-better-than-nothing situation. The plan would be to get Republicans on board by offering them certain corporate tax cuts related to how companies deduct research and development expenses. Talk about a perfect encapsulation of the two parties: Fight child poverty, or give corporations yet another tax cut. Still, if Democrats could make this happen, it would be huge for children in this country.
The problem is getting to any deal. Even though Democrats still control the House right now, Republicans think that because they will narrowly take control in January, they should get to dictate what happens this week or next. Part of that is because Republicans will always take any hostage they think they can get their hands on. It’s also about the Republican infighting that’s been raging since their Election Day disappointment. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is desperately fighting for the votes he needs to become speaker in 2023, and to do that, he needs a show of strength for the right-wing extremists who are opposing him. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already won the internal election to keep his role, but he did face an unusual challenge, from Sen. Rick Scott, who got 10 votes. That means McConnell is feeling at least a little heat and need to lock down the far-right side of his conference.
One possibility here remains a one-year continuing resolution that funds the government at its current levels—no defense spending increase, no increase to anything else. Neither party really wants that, but if they can’t find a breakthrough in the next few days or, at the outside, weeks, that may be the end result.
Why did Democrats do so surprisingly well in the midterms? It turns out they ran really good campaigns, as strategist Josh Wolf tells us on this week's episode of The Downballot. That means they defined their opponents aggressively, spent efficiently, and stayed the course despite endless second-guessing in the press. Wolf gives us an inside picture of how exactly these factors played out in the Arizona governor's race, one of the most important Democratic wins of the year. He also shines a light on an unsexy but crucial aspect of every campaign: how to manage a multi-million budget for an enterprise designed to spend down to zero by Election Day.