The government could shut down Friday at midnight. It probably won’t, but it could, and Republicans in the Senate seem determined to play with that fire. Before the House left last week, they passed a short-term bill to keep government going through March 11, at which time they hope to have agreement with the Senate on the 12 appropriations bills to permanently fund government operations. Well, until Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the government is operating on a budget approved in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic. We are four and a half months into the 2022 fiscal year, over a year into the Biden administration, and over two years into the pandemic without the government having current spending authority. All because Republicans refuse to cooperate.
As of Thursday morning, the plan is to have a cloture vote on the House-passed continuing resolution at 1:30 PM ET. In the meantime, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been negotiating over a growing list of totally batshit poison pill amendments—crack pipes, ending mask rules for flying and in schools, and vaccine mandates.
McConnell says that the impasse will be solved simply by allowing those obnoxious amendment votes. “I think it’ll all be worked out,” McConnell said. “There’s no risk of a government shutdown.”
Not as long as Republicans get all of these ridiculous votes and stretch this out to the last possible second, also potentially forcing the House to leadership to respond if any of those amendments are adopted, because the bill would go back to them to pass again. There’s not the appetite for a government shutdown in Republican leadership in the House, but it would only take one or two committed saboteurs on that side of the Hill to force a shutdown now that we’re this close to Friday night’s deadline.
Funding the government through continuing resolutions (CR) has been pretty commonplace in the modern era because budgeting for the whole federal government has only increased in complexity and scope. But the threat of shutting down the government by denying a CR is pretty new, cooked up by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995 in a childish tantrum. He forced a shutdown because he thought then-President Bill Clinton snubbed him on the return flight from Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in Jerusalem on Air Force One.
That turned out badly for Gingrich, but that outcome hasn’t deterred Gingrich’s nihilistic Republican progeny from repeating the tactic, weaponizing it. Then those same Republicans treat it as normal business. “It’s looking a little bit like a typical Thursday morning, which is a train wreck,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters Thursday morning. “And then miraculously, after lunch, things seem to clear and people are interested in getting back home.”
And all the savvy and cynical reporters in D.C. chuckle and make jokes about jet fumes fueling a rush to leave town (which they are doing, for the next 10 days). As if this is all normal. As if the fact that having no budget isn’t preventing that infrastructure bill—they all have been ballyhooing since it passed last fall from being implemented.
As if having the Pentagon constrained by having to operate under a set of 2020 policy priorities—including a war in Afghanistan that has concluded—isn’t an issue as Russia is poised to invade Ukraine.
As if threatening to take the government hostage over bullshit conspiracy theories cooked up by Fox News is just a regular Thursday. Like this is just the way things normally operate. It’s not normal. Treating it as such is how we got here in the first place.
Republicans have been fighting on getting a 2022 budget passed, they say, because they want to make sure defense spending is substantially hiked. But by forcing the Pentagon to operate under a CR, they’re cutting the real purchasing power of the Pentagon by as much as $76 billion by one estimate.
What they’re really doing is forcing President Joe Biden and his administration to operate under the Trump budget, because they can. Because they think they can hold out until 2023 when they might be back in control in Congress and can then enact their own budgets. Because they know Democrats will always be responsible and allow their bullshit to keep the lights on, even it if it means another full year of running the government on outdated budgets.
They’ll not shut down the government this week, but we’ll go through this all again when the next deadline happens: March 11.