The Coming Government Shutdown
Why it's inevitable and what it means.
POLITICO congressional reporter Daniella Diaz details “Why a shutdown is looking inevitable.” The long version is a rundown of scenarios for avoiding a shutdown and why they’re all incredibly unlikely:
— The Senate jams the House. The first part of this plan is straightforward enough: The Senate has already taken lopsided procedural votes to advance a clean-ish 45-day continuing resolution. The House could take that stopgap and pass it into law on a similarly overwhelming bipartisan vote, avoiding a shutdown. Easy peasy.
Why it’s not happening: For starters, there’s no time. Because there isn’t unanimous consent to speed up the timeline in the Senate, as Burgess laid out, the earliest the CR could pass the chamber is Sunday — after the shutdown is already underway. As for the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has promised his conference’s right flank he won’t put a clean CR on the floor in any case, lest he put his gavel at risk.
— The House jams the Senate. In the reverse scenario, the House manages to go first — sending a conservative 30-day, GOP-only CR over to the Senate. Rather than risk being seen as responsible for a shutdown, Senate Democrats capitulate and agree to fast-track the Halloween punt.
Why it’s not happening: Where even to begin. McCarthy has found it thus far impossible to unite his conference behind a CR of any length, and his latest plan — to advance a conservative stopgap tomorrow — is in serious jeopardy after the House Freedom Caucus threatened today to vote against it absent a broader appropriations plan. The Senate, meanwhile, is showing zero indications they’re buying what the House would be selling — across-the-board spending cuts, zeroed-out Ukraine aid and major border policy changes.
— The House GOP moderates revolt. We’ve toyed with this scenario several times in Huddle this week, where centrist Republicans join with Democrats to hijack the House floor and pass a clean CR using rarely used procedural feints, such as a discharge petition or defeating the previous question. That would get around McCarthy’s reluctance to put a bipartisan stopgap on the floor.
Why it’s not happening: There’s not near enough pressure right now to compel the moderates, even those in the toughest districts, to break ranks with McCarthy. As we noted yesterday, lawmakers on both sides say these deals are made under major duress — and that likely means being in a shutdown not three days away from a shutdown.
— The Senate dealmakers go to work. There have been real bipartisan they-said-it-couldn’t-be-done moments in Congress in recent memory, from an infrastructure deal to a gun control bill. All have been the work of cross-aisle Senate gangs, and one appears to be coming together now to discuss a potential deal on border funding — meeting, in fact, as this edition of Huddle hits your inbox.
Why it’s not happening: For one, there are real doubts over how a border deal would be greeted by House Republicans, who want much more than a few billion dollars, and Senate Democrats, who have been pushing for a clean stopgap. For another, the clock is ticking, and this gang knows it: We overheard four of those involved — Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) — discussing on the Senate floor what they’ll need to do if they manage to get a deal. Getting it attached to the pending CR will require unanimous consent, which means starting to talk to more conservative senators.
The short version, as I’ve detailed several times lately, is that roughly 7 House Republicans simply won’t go along with any sane deal and are credibly threatening to oust the Speaker if he makes a deal with the Democrats. The rest of the House GOP Caucus—including quite of few that I would characterize as part of the MAGA wing—think it’s nuts. Ditto Senate Republicans—again, including some MAGA types.
As a technical matter, the “shutdown” happens at midnight tomorrow, although it won’t impact most federal workers until Monday morning since the vast number of us are off Sundays. The uniformed military and other exempt workers will continue to work without pay for the duration. The rest of us will not work without pay for the duration (or until appropriations for our part of the government are passed).
All of us, whether we worked or not, will eventually get paid. Those of us who aren’t living paycheck to paycheck essentially get a free vacation, albeit not a particularly relaxing one. Those who are working will naturally resent that fact. And, of course, a fair number of those impacted don’t have a month’s salary in reserve and will be under significant financial stress. (That’s somewhat mitigated in the National Capitol Region, as banks, utility companies, and the like are habituated to these events and tend to be understanding.)
In the olden days, when Congress failed to pass a budget, government employees just continued to go to work, figuring that it would all be worked out in a matter of days. At the tail end of the Carter administration, though, the Attorney General ruled that the Antideficiency Act of 1884 prohibited federal agencies from spending money Congress hadn’t appropriated and that it would be a federal crime for workers to show up! There have been fourteen shutdowns since, including eight during the Reagan administration, one under George HW Bush, two under Clinton, one under Obama, and one under Trump. Most of them lasted five days or fewer. The exceptions were a 21-day shutdown starting December 15, 1995; a 16-day shutdown starting September 30, 2013; and a 34-day shutdown starting December 21, 2018.
Of course, the shutdowns themselves aren’t the whole story. There have been three since I started my current job ten years and a month ago. (Although only the first, the 2013 shutdown that began a month into my tenure, actually impacted me directly—and that was only because of a mistaken interpretation of the law. In all three cases, the Defense appropriation had already been passed but it took a week to clarify that civilians were covered the first time.) But, because funding is often passed at the last minute—and the can even more often gets kicked down the road in the form of short-term continuing resolutions—we’ve had to plan for shutdowns perhaps two dozen times. It’s an incredible waste of time and resources.
Oh, as another POLITICO report (“It’s not just a shutdown — Congress has no plan for the FAA either“) notes, there’s a new wrinkle this time:
It’s not just a broader government shutdown. By Sunday, the aviation system could also have almost all of its funding cut off if Congress can’t stop squabbling.
And House Republicans don’t seem to have a plan to avoid that, either.
It’s a crucial moment for the Federal Aviation Administration, which is faced with a possible lapse in its statutory authorization for the first time since 2011, as well as a possible gap in funding if the entire federal government shuts down this weekend. The funding cliff comes as the powerful agency has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since April 2022, at a time when near-misses have spiked and air travel has surged.
If Congress can’t act to head off a shutdown and FAA lapse by Sunday, most air traffic controllers will continue working without pay, but some 2,600 controllers in training — including 1,000 that are already working in FAA centers nationwide — will be forced to go home, putting significant strain on an already stressed system. Grant money for important safety improvements will stop and some regulations in process, such as ones intended to shore up passenger protections, will grind to a halt. And the country’s aviation system will lose an estimated $54 million a day in fuel and fare tax revenues.
“At this point, there isn’t a specific plan for [FAA], because there’s so many areas that are important that need to be extended as well,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said discussions about passing any standalone bills in the House, such as one that would extend the FAA’s expiring authorities, are “frozen.” Donalds insisted that the Senate should abandon its attempt to pass a short-term government funding bill.
“What the Senate should be doing is passing our FAA bill, not stripping it to pass a [continuing resolution] that’s dead here in the House,” Donalds said. “If you had that good faith, even with the Senate, you could figure out a single-issue situation dealing with air traffic control and FAA.”
There is bipartisan support in both chambers for sparing the FAA the brunt of a lapse. But how to get that result while also threading the needle of the fractious House Republican conference, portions of which are spoiling for a shutdown, has remained elusive. Meanwhile, the FAA is estimating that travel will reach its peak for the year heading into Indigenous People’s Day weekend, which will begin in a week.
Given bipartisan support, what’s the problem?
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a vocal critic of McCarthy who has vowed not to vote for any short-term spending bills, said he supports voting on standalone authorization bills like the FAA but that the crush of looming deadlines is designed to get members to fall in line.
“The fact that we’re backed up against shutdown politics is not a bug of the system, it’s a feature of the system,” Gaetz said. “The leadership does this on purpose so they centralize power and the lobbyists and special interests that make the biggest donations get the biggest say in the policy we’re working on.”
Yup. The crazies think this is all fun and games.