Some federal lawmakers are warning a government shutdown is increasingly likely as House members spar over a fiscal year 2024 spending plan—an impasse that could have both immediate consequences for the daily lives of Americans and long-term impacts on federal spending.
Congress must pass, and the president must sign, 12 annual appropriations bills that make up the federal budget before it expires at the end of the 2023 fiscal year on September 30 or approve what’s known as a continuing resolution that would extend the current budget and continue funding the government until lawmakers can reach an agreement.
With a slim 222-213 majority in the House, Republicans largely control the budget talks and can not afford to lose more than five votes in order to pass legislation.
The right wing House Freedom Caucus, made up of about three dozen members, is leveraging in the budget talks by threatening to vote against a short-term funding bill unless leadership caves to their demands, which include limiting funding for Ukraine and addressing their claims that federal law enforcement agencies are politically motivated, among other provisions.
Hundreds of thousands of government employees could be furloughed during a shutdown, meaning they are not allowed to work and do not get paid, and government operations are interrupted, though there are exceptions for some essential workers, including law enforcement.
A federal furlough can cost taxpayers a significant amount of money—the last three government shutdowns have amounted to at least $3.7 billion in back pay for furloughed federal workers and at least $338 million in other expenses, including additional administrative work, lost revenue and late fees on interest payments, according to a 2019 Senate subcommittee report.
During the 2019 shutdown—prompted by stalled negotiations between former President Donald Trump and Congress over funding for a border wall—flights at airports across the country were delayed when federal air traffic controllers, already facing a staffing shortage, called in sick because they were working without pay, as did some Transportation Security Administration agents, resulting in longer than usual security-line wait times.
While Social Security payments would continue during a government shutdown, administrative services associated with the program, such as enrollments and customer service, could be affected, as they were during shutdowns in both 1996 in 2013, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which noted that more than 10,000 Medicare applications were halted each day during the 1996 shutdown.
In past shutdowns, national parks have remained open, but with limited staffing that has resulted in closures of visitor centers and restrooms and the stoppage of some services, such as trash collection and other maintenance (Joshua Tree National Park closed its campground during the 2019 shutdown because of overflowing pit toilets, and in Washington, D.C., garbage spilled out of trash cans on the National Mall).
20. That’s how many times Congress has been unable to pass its spending bills by its deadline, though only four of those instances have been characterized as true shutdowns, when government operations were affected for more than one business day, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The longest shutdown in history occurred at the end of December 2018 into January 2019, lasting 35 days.
The House Freedom Caucus, in a memo last month titled “No Security, No Funding,” laid out its demands for the fiscal year 2024 budget, writing that they “refuse to support any [budget] that “continues Democrats’ bloated COVID-era spending and simultaneously fails to force the Biden Administration to follow the law and fulfill its most basic responsibilities.” In addition to their demands regarding Ukraine funding and concerns about what they refer to as the “weaponization” of the FBI and Justice Department, the group called for a rollback in federal spending to fiscal year 2022 levels. The list also includes the stipulation that Congress pass an anti-immigration bill that would restart border wall construction and restrict asylum seekers. Some members are threatening to withhold their votes over more radical proposals, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has said she will not approve the budget unless the House opens a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. With a slim 222-213 majority in the House, Republicans largely control the budget talks, but can not afford to lose more than five votes, numbers that have repeatedly forced House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to placate right-wing members this year. Both Senate and House leaders have suggested that a short-term stopgap measure that would largely extend the current budget is a likely path forward.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told CNN Thursday the possibility of a government shutdown is “very likely,” citing fraught negotiations in the House. Senators are largely united across party lines over the spending package, and Republicans in the upper chamber have openly criticized their counterparts in the House for the stalled negotiations. Romney accused the House GOP of “hypocrisy” in an interview on “KSL Sunday Edition,” noting “when President Trump was president you didn’t hear anything from we Republicans about how we were spending too much and trillion-dollar deficits . . . now President Biden is president, ‘oh, we’re going to shut down the government if we don’t rein in spending.” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) also told reporters Wednesday “I’m convinced it’s happening . . .I think there’s just too many people that think there’s some benefit in that,” he said about a shutdown.
Some lawmakers have cast doubt on the prospect of a government shutdown, including House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Bob Good (R-Va), who told Axios in July he was not concerned about a government shutdown, but said “we shouldn’t implement bad policy to avoid that.”
What To Watch For
Members of the far-right have also raised the possibility of attempting to oust McCarthy as speaker if he resists their demands in the budget talks. As part of his concessions to win the gavel in January, he agreed to a rule change that allows just one member to raise what’s known as a “motion to vacate” and kickstart the process for removing him. “I think it’s in the back of everybody’s mind,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) told Axios about removing McCarthy over the budget talks.
Senate GOP throws cold water on House shutdown talk (The Hill)
House-Senate GOP tension rises as shutdown fears grip Capitol (CNN)
Factbox: US government shutdown: what does it mean? (Reuters)