Week of October 03, 2023

Federal Government Avoids Government Shutdown

 

In what seems to be an annual event, the Congress avoided a shutdown on the last day.  However, the problem hasn’t been solved.  The Continuing Resolution only keeps the government going for another 45 days.  There are also several funding issues that must be worked out.  Although there weren’t the dramatic cuts in most department budgets, funding the Ukraine was left out of this bill.  Federal disaster assistance was included though.

The bill passed with most Republicans and nearly all Democrats voting for it.  However, Republican demands for more across the board cuts will remain a major issue as a small block of Republican congressmen hold the balance of power in the closely divided Congress.

To pass the bill, the Speaker of the House McCarthy had to ignore the wishes of some of his caucus and give in to Democratic wishes.  This leaves the Speaker vulnerable to an attempt by the Republican Conservative Caucus to declare the Speakers seat vacant.

Congressman Gaetz, who voted against the Continuing Resolution called the Speaker’s alliance with Democrats “disappointing” and said that Speaker McCarthy’s position as speaker was “on tenuous ground.”

If the bill hadn’t passed, the Speaker was prepared to pass several bills to limit the impact of the shutdown by paying members of the military and Border Patrol.

In the meantime, the House sent a bill to the Senate for their confirmation.  It then will go to the President for his signature.

Biden has signaled he will sign the bill.

An interesting sideline to the vote drama was Congressman Bowman’s attempt to slow down proceedings by setting off a fire alarm.  Ironically, as Speaker of the House McCarthy noted, this was a violation of 1512(c) (2) Obstruction of an official proceeding – the same law that has been used to prosecute Trump supporters who protested on January 6th.  Since Congressman Bowman is an ally of Biden, we can be sure he will not be put in jail as hundreds of Trump supporters have for violating the same law.

On another note, in the annual appropriation for the Department of Defense, Congress voted to slash Secretary of Defense Austin salary to one dollar.  Congresswoman Greene, who brought the amendment to the floor of the House said, “He is destroying our military. During Secretary Austin’s tenure, military recruitment has reached crisis levels of low recruitment.”

The provision says, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to pay Defense Secretary Loyd James Austin III a salary that exceeds $1.”

This isn’t the only trouble Austin faces.  Last month articles of impeachment were filed that centered around the American exodus from Afghanistan.

 

History of Government Shutdowns

In the legislative history of the US government, government shutdowns are relatively new.  They usually occur when the legislature and president are from different parties, although the late 1970s saw shutdowns even though the Congress and President were both Democrats.  The longest shutdown at that time was 17 days (September 78), while the average was 8 to 12 days.

Although Reagan faced a Democratic House, shutdowns were only 1 to 3 days long.  Clinton faced only one long shutdown (21 days in December 95).  A Republican Congress and Obama led to a 16-day shutdown in 2013.

The longest shutdown was December 2019, when Trump and the newly energized Democrat Congress kept the government closed for 34 days.

As mentioned before, not everything closes if the Continuing Resolution isn’t passed.  There is an OMB memo that outlines who gets laid off and when.

Naturally national security and foreign relations are the priority if they are essential to life and safety.

Next in line are benefits and contract obligations.

Essential activities that protect life and property like:

  • Medical care
  • Continuance of transportation safety functions
  • Border and coastal protection
  • Protection of lands, property, and buildings owned by the US.
  • Care of prisoners and others in the custody of the US.
  • Law enforcement and criminal investigations
  • Emergency and disaster assistance
  • Activities essential to elements of money and banking system
  • Activities to ensure production of power and power distribution systems.
  • Activities to protect research properties.

Safeguarding nuclear weapons isn’t mentioned (although the National Nuclear Security Administration does mention it in their plans for the shutdown).  Most DoD civilian employees would be furloughed although burials at Arlington National Cemetery will continue.

Mail service and Amtrak will still be available.

Government economic statistics, which have been criticized recently, may be late.

Most National Parks would be closed, except in Arizona, where the state intends to use state funds to keep the Grand Canyon open.

Although this shutdown appears to have been avoided, we may be facing the same problem in a little more than a month.

Stay tuned for Part Two.