Congress must keep government open
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” — Martin Luther King Jr., “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches”
Democracy is ugly.
We’ve divided ourselves into two big camps. Within each camp are many smaller camps. And within each smaller camp are many individual, often competing ambitions and ideologies.
Democracy aims to take all that and move it in some sort of cohesive direction.
That’s hard. Really hard.
I get that.
But we elect our representatives in government to find a way to do it.
Right now, Congress is failing.
The federal government’s authorization to spend money expires Sept. 30, meaning Congress must pass new spending plans by then or the government shuts down.
A shutdown would be a bad thing.
Government programs Americans depend upon can’t operate during a shutdown. Food stamps won’t go out. The Social Security Administration can’t issue new social security cards. National parks close. Food and environmental inspections can’t happen. Without anyone to maintain them, government websites start to crash. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers won’t receive a timely paycheck, and many workers deemed essential to public safety would be expected to continue doing their jobs without pay (they’re typically paid back in full when the government reopens).
While the stock market has mostly shrugged off government shutdowns, a prolonged one could have devastating effects on the economy as the government itself and its employees stop spending on goods and services. Government contractors and all the stores and restaurants usually frequented by government employees would lose money. The communities near national parks would lose tourism dollars.
The government has shut down 14 times since 1981, the longest of which was a 35-day shutdown in 2018 into 2019 during a battle between then-President Donald Trump and Democrats who controlled the U.S. House. That shutdown only ended when unpaid air traffic controllers failed to show up to work, shutting down airports and pressuring Congress and the president to ink a deal.
Keeping the government open is Congress’ most basic job. It’s a dereliction of duty when they fail to do so.
You can debate what the government should look like, the amount of money that the government should spend, but we should expect Congress to have those debates and arrive at a solution on time.
There’s a midpoint between every two numbers, and Congress ought to be able find compromise.
But the U.S. House has so far failed to even advance spending bills to a debate, let alone passage, because the factions of the Republicans who control the House can’t agree on how much they want to spend or what they want to spend it on and because the farthest-right Republicans won’t let House Speaker Kevin McCarthy work with Democrats to get a deal done. If he does, they’ve threatened to strip him of his speakership.
Here are the basics:
Back in the spring, McCarthy and President Joe Biden, in a deal to avoid a default on the government’s debt, agreed to spend about $1.6 trillion. The farthest-right members of the House are shooting for $1.4 trillion or less. Moderates have floated a compromise $1.5 trillion.
Other disagreements include whether Congress should pass a short-term spending deal to give lawmakers more time to iron out a complete spending plan or shoot right now for the long-term deal, whether the spending plan should include more money for Ukraine in its war against Russia, and whether the plan should include billions of spending for natural disaster relief.
Complicating negotiations is the fact that, while Congress has typically passed funding for all federal departments in one omnibus bill, McCarthy has split the spending plan into 12 separate bills. That’s 12 big negotiations and 12 rounds of voting, instead of just one, and, whether you think that’s a good idea or not, it makes things stickier.
That’s just the House.
The bills still have to pass the U.S. Senate, controlled by Democrats, and get the Democratic president’s signature. Republicans in the House need to realize they have to pass something that can make it all the way through the process, and that means they must compromise.
A shutdown seems likely, and, given how little progress has been made thus far, it could be a long one.
I find that despicable.
Moderate Republicans in the House have pondered a procedural move that would allow them to make an end-run around McCarthy and pass legislation in partnership with Democrats that would keep the government open. The Senate might support that plan.
I say they take it.
If McCarthy can’t get the job done the usual way, someone’s gotta show some leadership.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-354-3112 or email@example.com.