Insights & Analysis

U.S. Update: Government Shutdown?

Karen A. Tramontano
#BlueStarBrief#September 2023#Perspective

For weeks, everyone in Washington, DC has been wondering whether there will be a government shutdown. We had hoped by our newsletter deadline we would be able to share something definitive. Unfortunately, as we are writing the final copy on September 20, we do not have any more clarity.

If something changes as we go to print, we will provide an update, but, for now, here’s where things stand. It does not look good.

It may be recalled that it took 15 votes for Representative McCarthy to become Speaker of the House. To attain this seat of power, Mr. McCarthy gave in to many far-right Republicans’ demands. One of those demands was to allow any Member of Congress to make a motion to remove him as Speaker. That Damocles sword looms over McCarthy’s head day-in and day-out and is especially pertinent to the current state of play.

So where are we now? There is no way in the next 10 days to pass all the pending appropriations bills to fund the government. When this happens—and it has happened frequently—Congress typically passes a continuing resolution, known as a “CR”. This bill, when passed by the House and the Senate and signed by the President, will continue to fund the government at the previous year’s funding level.

Last week, several conservative Republicans working with some moderate Republicans drafted a CR with a couple of riders (provisions to appeal to more conservative members) hoping that a conservative compromise would appeal to both moderates and far-right Republicans.

Unfortunately, it appears that far right Republicans will not agree with the compromise.

Moreover, Speaker McCarthy thought that he could woo far-right Republican members to support a CR by agreeing to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Biden. McCarthy’s endorsement of an impeachment not only did not bring any far-right Republicans into the fray, it also antagonized Democrats, including Democrats whom McCarthy may ultimately need for the CR and his survival as Speaker.

So what’s next?

It is possible that the House of Representatives passes the CR that conservative Republicans are supporting, but it is unlikely because the Speaker has only to get all but four Republicans to agree and at least 10 far-right Republicans have publicly stated their opposition. Even if the conservative proposal were to pass, it would not pass the Senate. The riders are unacceptable to most, if not all, Senate Democrats.

The Speaker of the House could work with Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass a CR.

The Speaker did this when seeking to avoid the recent debt ceiling crisis. The Speaker garnered 51 Republicans and the Democrats provided 167 votes to reach the necessary 218 votes for passage. If the Speaker were to again work with Democrats, far-right Republicans have promised to file a motion to remove him as Speaker.

Moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats are trying to avoid the Speaker being removed and, instead, come together on a compromise that the Senate will pass. But, they face a procedural challenge. First, a “discharge petition” would take time, perhaps as many as 30 days to come to the House floor for a vote. Second, a majority of Members of Congress would have to vote to “discharge” the compromise, effectively working around the Speaker of the House and his leadership.

Because these options present serious challenges—challenges the Speaker does not appear to have a plan to overcome—most Washington observers, at least at the current juncture, believe a pending U.S. Government shutdown is indeed very likely.

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