The House Freedom Caucus has set the stage for a government shutdown, issuing a list of demands on Monday that they know will never be met. They are thereby setting up a test of wills between themselves and basically everyone else in the House and Senate, starting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Congress will need to pass a temporary funding bill to keep the government open when current funding ends on Sept. 30, and the Freedom Caucus is insisting it will not back a clean continuing resolution. Even a short-term bill, they insist, would need to include their far-right demands.
Freedom Caucus members are opposing any bill that “continues Democrats’ bloated COVID-era spending,” which is to say they’d oppose a short-term spending bill that didn’t make cuts right off the bat because they didn’t like the last government spending bill to pass. Additionally, they say, they won’t support any spending bill unless it includes the hateful immigration bill House Republicans said was a “first week” priority, but only managed to pass in May. They are vowing to oppose any bill that doesn’t “[a]ddress the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI to focus them on prosecuting real criminals instead of conducting political witch hunts and targeting law-abiding citizens” and “[e]nd the Left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon undermining our military’s core warfighting mission.”
So first off they want a rollback to pre-pandemic spending levels, plus a bill that it took months for the House to pass as a stand-alone and that stands no chance in the Senate. But as unlikely as that is, at least it’s a concrete ask. From there, it gets murkier. How is a spending bill supposed to “address the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI”? Presumably cutting off the special counsel’s investigation into Donald Trump, but this is a demand that could cover a lot of ground, some of which the different members of the Freedom Caucus probably don’t even agree on. Finally, they are demanding a legislative ban on various military policies they don’t like, presumably starting with the military’s policy of paying for service members and their families to travel for medical care, including abortion, and maybe policies allowing trans service members to serve openly in the military. But again, railing against “cancerous woke policies” is pretty vague language, especially considering that these days “woke” means anything a Republican doesn’t like. In some Republican hands, “End the Left’s cancerous woke policies” could mean resegregating the military.
In translation, the Freedom Caucus is saying that it wants a government shutdown because they know that these demands will never be met. The only way to keep the government open will be for McCarthy to rely on Democratic votes to get a clean continuing resolution and, ultimately, a funding bill through the House. The Freedom Caucus is banking—with good reason—on McCarthy being unwilling to do that. But just in case this is the moment McCarthy finds a spine, the Freedom Caucus said it would “oppose any attempt by Washington to revert to its old playbook of using a series of short-term funding extensions designed to push Congress up against a December deadline to force the passage of yet another monstrous, budget busting, pork filled, lobbyist handout omnibus spending bill at year’s end and we will use every procedural tool necessary to prevent that outcome.” In other words, if you try to pass this without us, we will do whatever it takes to block it from getting a vote.
It’s not clear that the Freedom Caucus demands could get through the House with its very narrow Republican control. They definitely can’t get through the Senate. So when the Freedom Caucus says that its support is contingent on getting all of their demands and that its members will do whatever possible to block a House vote on a bill they don’t like, they’re saying they want a shutdown. Let’s be very, very clear about that as the possibility of a government shutdown looms next month: It’s not both sides. It’s House Republicans.
American political parties might often seem stuck in their ways, but they can and in fact do change positions often. Joining us on this week's episode of "The Downballot" is political scientist David Karol, who tells us how and why both the Democratic and Republican parties have adjusted their views on a wide range of issues over the years. Karol offers three different models for how these transformations happen—and explains why voters often stick with their parties even after these shifts. He concludes by offering tips to activists seeking to push their parties when they're not changing fast enough.