". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Hill Leaders Try to Avoid another Shutdown Nail-Biter

February 28, 2024

Even Leap Year won’t save Congress from the countdown clock on government funding. An extra day in February is nice, but not enough to slog through the last five appropriations bills before the March 1 and 8 deadlines. For Mike Johnson (R-La.), it’s a surprisingly familiar predicament to be in during his brief time as speaker. Jammed up against an unrealistic date, with no help from the Senate’s sloths, he’s had to pass one spending bridge after another in hopes that one of these days, Congress will decide to do its most fundamental job: budget.

In a sit-down with top leaders at the White House Tuesday, both sides emerged with the same talking point: we’re working on it. “It was frank and honest,” Johnson told reporters afterward. “Then I had a one-on-one for a period of time with the president — just he and I in the Oval Office.” To the skeptics, he reiterated, “We will get the government funded, and we’ll keep working on that.”

Of course, the stickiest issue to navigate is the one Republicans refuse to budge on — the border. “When I showed up today, my purpose was to express what I believe is the obvious truth,” Johnson said, “and that is that we must take care of America’s needs, first. When you talk about America’s needs, you have to talk first about our open border.”

Already, several of his rank-and-file have flat-out refused to keep the government open if the border is. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, insisted he “will not be voting for any funding if the border is not secured.” “Anything I vote for has to secure our border. And the president should agree to that. That’s common sense…”

Ironing that out, along with five major agency budgets, will almost certainly take extra time — another reason Johnson is floating another short-term resolution to keep Washington’s lights on. The latest plan would only give the House and Senate an extra week for some agencies (March 8), with the full slate of 12 appropriations due March 22. That alone, The New York Times points out, could suggest that Johnson is closer to resolving some of the thorny policy issues in his caucus. According to the Times, the speaker warned his party in a weekend conference call that they “should not expect the inclusion of many of their major policy priorities” — including pro-life protections that conservatives were fighting to add — but that “he expected to secure a number of smaller victories.”

Over in the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is ruling with a tyrannical hand, Republicans sounded off on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) refusal — not only to go to the mat for GOP priorities, but to fight for something as simple as regular order.

“Here’s the way it works up here,” Scott vented to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell decide this is what we’re going to do. ‘We’re not going to let you have any amendment votes. We’ve decided we’re not going to take it through a committee.’ We’re not going to do any of that stuff. That’d be too much like work. So what we’re going to do is we’re not going to have a budget.” Instead, Scott explained, “Every so often we’ll have a deadline, we’ll create an artificial deadline, and then [we find out they’re] going to cram down a big omnibus with lots of earmarks for our friends and, and family, and all that stuff. And then, if you don’t vote for it, then you want to shut down government. So you’re, boy, you’re just a bad person because you hate government.”

Which explains why we’re $34 trillion in debt, Perkins pointed out. Exactly, Scott agreed. “Think about [it]. McConnell and Schumer have been up here forever, right? I think when they came up here, the debt was less than $5 trillion. Now we have $30 — almost $35 — trillion. We’ve got high inflation. We’re spending more in interest expenses than we are on the Defense budget. So this doesn’t make any sense.”

But at the end of the day, he pointed out, this is all orchestrated. Just look at the Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan aid package, “the so-called supplemental which is going to do all these great things.” “Did they talk to the speaker about it?” he asked rhetorically. “No. … Republicans have a majority in the House. So shouldn’t we take their lead instead of taking Chuck Schumer’s lead? … [But] Mitch McConnell … is on Chuck Schumer’s side. So he’ll organize whatever votes it takes to do whatever Chuck Schumer wants to get done.” And, he added, it’s all “behind closed doors, which is how it works up here.” But when Republicans said “no way,” suddenly “we’re the problem, because we actually expect real border security.”

That’s offensive, Perkins insisted. Congress has committees that work through these issues. “[They] have oversight of these various agencies to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. … But what you’re telling me is that you have two guys — Chuck Schumer, who [has a slim majority] and Senator McConnell, who’s supposed to be representing Republicans — get together and just cut out the other senators. … That’s crazy,” he shook his head. “That’s not the way government is supposed to work.”

On one hand, there’s a speaker trying to make sure everyone in his caucus is represented — only to be undermined by the other side of the Capitol, where McConnell and Schumer are crafting their own bill without input and telling senators, “Take it or leave it.”

It’s infuriating for members of Congress, yes, but also for GOP voters to have a Republican leader working against his own party. “And so that’s how we get the debt, how we get no border security. Think about [what] McConnell negotiated … three or four months, without telling any of us anything about this ‘unbelievable’ border bill. Except he left out [the] one issue [that mattered], border security.”

And McConnell’s decision to step down in November will do little to impact that debate unless — as Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) told Perkins Wednesday night — he spends that time “fighting to secure America's borders and unifying the Senate Republican Conference around Republican priorities.”

If he won’t, Lee said, then the GOP needs to move forward with a full-year continuing resolution (CR). “We’ve got this … language that was incorporated into some legislation last year that says that if we continue to operate through a continuing resolution through the end of this fiscal year, $100 billion in cuts will kick in. That’s a pretty big win,” he pointed out. So if the two sides aren’t willing to close the border, then “the best we should do,” Lee argues, “the most we should give [Democrats] is, ‘Okay, you get a full-year CR through the balance of this fiscal year, that is, and $100 billion in cuts. That’s fair. We should not give them another inch.”

Here’s the reality, he pointed out. “There will not be a better opportunity for us to fix this. There will not be another opportunity at all between now and, effectively speaking, the end of the Biden administration, or at least the end of this calendar year — after which we hope Biden will no longer be president. There aren’t that many ships that pass this way. This is the last ship passing. And if we get this wrong, then we’re going to be stuck with spending at least $100 billion a year more than we have to — without a secure border,” Lee warned. “That’s unconscionable. It’s unthinkable. And neither Mitch McConnell nor Speaker Mike Johnson, nor any Republican serving in either chamber, should be content with that outcome.”

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.