Sun, 03 Dec 2023

With Federal Shutdown Looming, Spending Bill Fails in US House

Voice of America
30 Sep 2023, 07:05 GMT+10

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives failed to pass a short-term spending measure Friday, increasing the chances of a government shutdown when funding runs out on October 1.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Friday that passing a short-term funding deal was critical to maintaining security at the U.S.- Mexico border and would buy lawmakers crucial time to negotiate spending priorities, but the measure was defeated by the most conservative members of his Republican Party.

"President Biden and congressional Democrats continue to ignore the border and ignore their own leaders. That is why I'm putting on the floor a stopgap measure that will fund the government and secure the border. No longer can the president ignore a problem he created," McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill earlier in the day.

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks with reporters as the deadline to avert a partial government shutdown approaches on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 28, 2023. U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks with reporters as the deadline to avert a partial government shutdown approaches on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 28, 2023.

But the short-term continuing resolution was defeated 232-198, with 20 Republicans joining a united Democratic opposition.

Even if a measure passed the Republican-majority House, it would face little chance of passage in the Democratic-majority Senate. Lawmakers remain at odds over the size of the U.S. budget for the next 12 months, continued aid for Ukraine to fight Russia, immigration controls at the U.S.-Mexico border, and social welfare programs to help impoverished Americans.

'They tried a partisan continuing resolution and they failed," House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters after Friday's vote. "And there was no way out of their Republican civil war. The only path forward is to partner with House Democrats in a bipartisan way. And we're prepared to do just that."

The Democratic-controlled Senate is working on a seven-week funding plan that would keep the government fully open through mid-November to give lawmakers more time to set spending levels through September 2024. The bipartisan legislation allocates $6 billion in supplemental aid for the war in Ukraine and for disaster relief in the United States, two sticking points for conservatives in the U.S. House.

Government agencies Thursday morning began notifying workers a shutdown could be in the offing.

'Manufactured shutdown'

Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told White House reporters Friday that a government shutdown could cost the U.S. economy $26 billion.

"The hope is though during a shutdown, if that happens, the economy would be able to pick that GDP loss up in the next quarter. So, it may not be a permanent loss, but why risk our economy for a manufactured shutdown? All a problem within one conference in Congress." she said.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned lawmakers earlier this week about the dire effects of shutting down part of the government, especially difficulties in controlling the influx of migrants at the country's southern border with Mexico.

"Shutting down the government is not like pressing pause," McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday. "It's not an interlude that lets us pick up where we left off. It's an actively harmful proposition. And instead of producing any meaningful policy outcomes, it would actually take the important progress being made on a number of key issues and drag it backward."

If a short-term funding deal cannot be reached, more than 4 million U.S. military service personnel and government workers would not be paid, although essential services such as air traffic control and official border entry points would still be staffed. Pensioners might not get their monthly government payments in time to pay bills and buy groceries, and national parks could be closed.

Such shutdowns have occurred four times in the last decade in the U.S., but often have lasted just a day or two until lawmakers reached a compromise to fully restart government operations. However, one shutdown that occurred during the administration of former President Donald Trump lasted 35 days, as he unsuccessfully sought funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

"This does look very chaotic, but this is not the first time it's happened," Todd Belt, director of the school of political management at George Washington University, told VOA. "There is a price that has to be paid here. But that is the price of democracy. It does seem very messy sometimes. But eventually, usually you get some compromise."

FILE - President Joe Biden meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to discuss the debt limit, in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, May 22, 2023. FILE - President Joe Biden meets with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to discuss the debt limit, in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, May 22, 2023.

McCarthy reached a deal in May with Democratic President Joe Biden on spending levels for fiscal 2024, but a small faction of far-right House Republicans rejected the deal and now is demanding further spending cuts.

The McCarthy-Biden deal called for $1.59 trillion in discretionary spending in fiscal 2024, but some members of the House Freedom Caucus are demanding another $120 billion in cuts and further border controls.

The cuts would be a relatively small portion of the overall $6.4 trillion U.S. budget and would not affect pension payments or government-provided health insurance for older Americans.

Democratic votes needed

The Senate's short-term spending plan through mid-November could win passage in the House, but only with a mix of Republican and Democratic votes, jeopardizing McCarthy's speakership.

"Many of these hard-right Republicans who are opposed to any sort of deal or bipartisanship are likely not going to get what they want, because they keep asking for more," Belt told VOA.

"Ultimately, I think that McCarthy is going to have to make a deal with House Democrats in order to pass these deals. And if he does that - and he did that once to get the spending limit set - when he did these initial negotiations, those Republicans were very angry with him. They'd be angry with him again."

Biden told a group of donors at a fundraiser in San Francisco on Wednesday, "I think that the speaker is making a choice between [retaining] the speakership and American interests.'

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