If you think the presidential race seems repetitious, think about the prospect of another federal government shutdown. That might just happen on September 30 if Congress can’t pass legislation to fund continuing operations.
This potential shutdown has all the hallmarks of earlier ones – the right-wing faction of the House GOP caucus is balking at a short continuing resolution to push major budget decisions past the November 8 general election when a new president will be elected and Senate control could flip from Republicans to Democrats.
The 42-member Freedom Caucus wants to avoid an omnibus spending package in a lame-duck session of Congress. GOP House leaders, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have expressed support for approving a continuing resolution this month that would maintain existing spending levels until around Christmas.
If Freedom Caucus members hold firm, House Speaker Paul Ryan will be staring at the same dilemma that bedeviled and ultimately unseated his predecessor, John Boehner – turning to Democrats for the needed votes to approve a spending bill. Democrats have their own priorities and have stymied Republican proposals of late.
House Republicans are huddling to find a work-around after Congress returned earlier this week after a seven-week recess. Preventing a government shutdown is just one of many spending issues up in the air at this point.
Congress left town in July without approving a spending measure to combat the Zika virus, which has emerged as more of a threat in Miami and potentially other parts of the South than previously anticipated.
The presidential contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is tightening up as the candidates seek to distinguish themselves on a range of issues, including national security, which will be the subject of an NBC-sponsored commander-in-chief forum tonight. Before the event, Trump said he favors releasing the Pentagon budget from the spending constraints that apply across the board to all federal agencies.
Some conservatives in Congress have echoed Trump's view, but they face the problem of what to cut to compensate for higher defense spending. Democrats, including President Obama, oppose selectively excusing defense spending from overall spending constraints.
Congressional Democrats and Obama appear in policy lock-step in support of a short-term spending bill that will push bigger budget questions beyond election day. That position is buttressed by the serious prospect that Democrats could regain control of the Senate though the GOP majority in the Senate hasn’t warmed up to the idea of closing down the federal government.
There is little question the budget priorities of a President Clinton and a President Trump would differ substantially, which makes the looming stalemate over a stopgap continuing resolution even stickier. It also raises the question of whether an actual government shutdown would help or hurt Trump or Clinton.
Trump has positioned himself as a political outsider with the personal experience of knowing how the system works and what needs to change. Clinton has a hard time escaping the “insider” label, but can be expected to argue that now is not the time to threaten or shutter the federal government, given the precarious momentum of the economic recovery and a flurry of foreign threats.
The Freedom Caucus may be wary of Trump in the White House, but they worry more about a Clinton victory in November, combined with a Democratic takeover in the Senate. They may argue now is potentially the last time they have the leverage for major cuts in federal spending and a budget boost for the military. What will be interesting to watch in the next three weeks is whether the Freedom Caucus actually has the leverage it imagines.
Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.