Who's up for a government shutdown?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

This is something that everyone knew was approaching at least since July, but now the deadline is coming up fast. The end of the fiscal year (and the current budget window) is only eight days away. If there isn’t some sort of stopgap spending measure passed by then, along with a lifting of the debt ceiling, we’ll be looking at a government shutdown. Perhaps even more worrisome is the fact that within a few weeks of that deadline (at most) the government will not have enough money to cover its current debts, prompting a possible default. With that in mind, the Democrats in the House scrambled to pass a temporary budget measure last night. But they did it without a single Republican vote. And it’s not looking as if there will be ten Republicans in the Senate willing to go along with the plan either. Why we are once again engaging in this game of Russian roulette is anybody’s guess. (Associated Press)

The House voted to keep the government funded, suspend the federal debt limit and provide disaster and refugee aid, setting up a high-stakes showdown with Republicans who oppose the package despite the risk of triggering a fiscal crisis.

The federal government faces a shutdown if funding stops on Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year — midnight next Thursday. Additionally, at some point in October the U.S. risks defaulting on its accumulated debt load if its borrowing limits are not waived or adjusted.

Rushing to prevent that dire outcome, the Democratic-led House passed the measure Tuesday night by a party-line vote of 220-211. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is likely to falter because of overwhelming GOP opposition.

The bill that the House passed only funds the government through December 3rd, though it does extend our borrowing authority through the end of next year. It also includes some modest amounts for hurricane disaster relief and support for Afghani immigrants. In that sense, there’s really nothing terribly unusual about it.

So why does it sound like the GOP is ready to go to the wall on this? And how did the bill not attract a single Republican vote in the House? Midnight Mitch is saying that since the Democrats hold the majority, it’s “their problem to find the votes.” He predicted that the debt ceiling will be raised, but said, “it will be raised by the Democrats.”

On the House side, Republicans are arguing against “signing a blank check” just as the Democrats are pushing to pass one of the most massive spending bills in history via reconciliation. That’s a fair argument to be sure, but it needs to be balanced against the reality of needing to keep the government running. Neither party has a leg to stand on in terms of suddenly becoming worried about the deficit and the national debt, and that includes the Republicans. After the huge spending spree the GOP went on when Trump was president, including tax cuts with no offsetting spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling three times, they can’t suddenly claim with a straight face to once again be the party of fiscal responsibility.

This seems like a pointless bit of theater on the part of the GOP in my opinion. We’ve all seen this same drama play out in the past and it always works out the same way. The party refusing to agree to the budget measure gets the blame from the public and that’s almost always the party in the minority. Then, if the government does shut down, it will last for a few weeks to a month or two at most and then they’ll cave after getting some meaningless concessions on a couple of line items from the Democrats. Meanwhile, the press will have a field day blaming the GOP for the entire mess and running endless stories of government workers not being paid as the holidays approach and every other sob story they can dredge up.

This doesn’t even make sense politically because the timing couldn’t be worse. Currently, the approval ratings for both Joe Biden specifically and the Democrats, in general, are tanking on a weekly basis. Things aren’t going well and people are correctly blaming the Democrats and their policies for these ongoing debacles. But if the GOP forces a shutdown, that all goes out the window. The shutdown will become pretty much the only story being covered and there is no way to shift the blame for it to the Democrats.

The GOP still has a better than fair chance of killing that $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill and passing the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will probably be a popular move with the public. All of that can be done without shutting down the government. I’m seriously hoping the GOP leadership takes a second look at their options here and finds a way to get past this impasse.