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With Congress returning from their long weekend, they have less than a week to avoid a federal government shutdown.
A little over a month ago, on Sept. 30, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through Nov. 17. Without a spending plan in place by Friday, some government operations will begin to shut down.
Being in this situation again is ridiculous. One of the most basic functions of Congress is to fund the many government agencies and activities. It is a massive failure of governing when lawmakers can’t even do this task without careening toward deadlines and shutdowns.
Rather than focusing on this essential work, the House wasted a lot of precious time electing a new speaker after a small group of extreme Republicans, along with Democrats, succeeded in dumping former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson was elected House speaker on Oct. 25. He is the least experienced speaker in 140 years, which does not bode well for the enormity of the tasks facing Congress.
House Republicans are further wasting time by trying to pass full-year spending bills that have no chance of passage in the Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats. To further highlight how unserious many House Republicans are, one such funding bill, for the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Departments, now includes a provision to cut the salary of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, long a target of GOP derision, to $1 a year.
In theory, long-term spending bills are a better alternative. However, in this scenario where the House and Senate – and Republicans and Democrats – are far from agreement on what should be in a long-term spending plan and where time is extremely limited, passing a short-term spending bill makes more sense.
Johnson has said he is considering a short-term funding measure, called a continuing resolution, to fund the federal government through Jan. 15. However, he wants it to include 1 percent cuts in spending across the board.
This goes beyond the budget agreement negotiated by President Joe Biden in May to end a showdown over the nation’s debt ceiling. That agreement included essentially flat funding for non-defense spending through 2024 and caps growth at 1 percent in 2025.
Another proposal from Johnson would be for a so-called “laddered” continuing resolution. Although details are sparse, this would include funding some parts of the government for several months, but others only for a few weeks. This sounds unworkable and a punitive way to fund government operations that Republicans like and to curtail those that it doesn’t. This is no way to make decisions about funding government operations, many of which are vital for millions of Americans.
Budget talks are further complicated by competing views on additional funding for Ukraine and Israel, including whether the support for both countries should be in the same package. There appears to be waning interest among some lawmakers in appropriating additional money for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion. Likewise, additional funding for Israel, already a large recipient of U.S. financial support, is complicated by the Netanyahu government’s deadly and destructive response to last month’s brutal Hamas terrorist attacks. Further, some Republicans want to pair Israel funding with cuts in funding for the IRS, a position that is likely untenable to Democrats.
It is extremely frustrating, but sadly not surprising, that there seems to be so little constructive work being done on a funding mechanism to keep the U.S. government operational after this week.
Federal spending, and the growing national debt, certainly warrant serious and thorough debate. That debate won’t happen, however, with Congress facing a deadline to keep the government funded and functional.