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A Bottomless Congressional Conflagration

Another month, another potential government shutdown. The U.S. House of Representatives did manage to briefly overcome its deep divisions long enough to…

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Another month, another potential government shutdown.

The scant, good news of this story, if you could call it that: The U.S. House of Representatives did manage to briefly overcome its deep divisions long enough to elect a new speaker, Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana. However, Johnson is not your run-of-the-mill congressman. He is best known for being a creationist who ardently lobbied for a Noah’s Ark theme park (yes, it’s exactly what you think it is) and joining the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. So, there’s that. He’s also second in line to the U.S. president after the vice president.

But Johnson, like his ousted GOP predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, seems determined not to allow the government to shut down, promising voters that keeping the government open will be his “first priority.”

Congress is running out of time. To avoid a shutdown, it must approve legislation to keep the government funded by Nov. 17 (that’s a Friday, in case you were wondering whether America will be kept on its toes until the very last minute, again). “If, indeed, we come to November 17 and we’re unable to finish that because it’s detailed work and it takes some time, we’ll look at another stopgap measure,” Johnson said. “I think everyone will be on board with that, because they understand we’re really doing this work. If we run out of time on the calendar, we may need a little bit more to complete it.”

The stakes for Johnson are not low, as McCarthy was jettisoned just days after the U.S. narrowly dodged its last government shutdown in September. That interruption only served to further delay America’s ongoing budget negotiations for fiscal 2024 – which, mind you, were supposed to have been concluded well before the current fiscal year started.

Wary of more shutdowns, the Senate has tried to step in, proposing a way to permanently end the maneuver as an amendment to three spending measures for fiscal 2024. Literally called the Prevent Government Shutdowns Act, the effort garnered a majority of support – but even with senators voting 56-42 in favor, it still failed to get the 60 votes needed for passage. The act proposed that if appropriations work by Congress was not finished on time, all members would have to stay in Washington and work on spending bills until they were completed. (Sounds reasonable, no? After all, taxpayers are paying them and it’s their job to keep the lights on. But alas, even this seems too much to ask.)

The Senate measure to end shutdowns forever was introduced as companion legislation to an act by the same name introduced by Rep. Jimmy Panetta, a Democrat from California. “The very last thing that we should be doing in Congress is allowing the federal government to shut down because of our inability to work together in a timely fashion and agree on a budget,” he said. “Shutdowns of the federal government prevent millions of people from getting paid, disrupt government services, waste taxpayer dollars and affect the lives of hardworking Americans.”

If Congress ends up requiring more time to pass the annual budget, Johnson has warned that stopgap funding may be needed through mid-January, or even mid-April. (Yes, it could take eight months to pass a budget that should have been ready in September – meaning, Congress may need to pass another new budget by the time this one is ready, if that ever happens.)

To simply pass the stopgap extension, Johnson also hinted that House Republicans will want “certain conditions” met, while not saying what those conditions are. “I think they’ll be conditions the American people can live with and a consensus we can build around here in the House,” he reckoned. Right, ok, but what are they?

And, not that this needs to be asked, but why play coy on something so critical? Shouldn’t Americans know exactly what House Republicans want from the budget they are delaying?

Congress will need to debate and approve 12 separate funding bills for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2024, if they ever want to get this done. So far, it has been nearly impossible to bridge the divide among lawmakers, as partisan factions war over how to tax and spend. (As has been covered by Power Corridor herehere and here the relationship between taxing and spending merits careful consideration.)

What continues to be overlooked by many is just how complex these budget bills are – and the seriousness of some of the spending cuts being floated.

A close look at the fine print by Power Corridor reveals that some of the spending cuts being proposed are truly disturbing – and more attention should be paid to them, before some of them actually pass. They also explain why some lawmakers don’t want to be up front about the spending cuts they are aggressively proposing.

One example: Slashing funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by 39 percent, or $4 billion – and, notably, funds for Americans’ clean drinking water. The current proposal seeks to cut those funds by 59 percent, or $665 million, which could affect anyone’s drinking water nationwide.

“These budget cuts are still 100 percent on the table, with the possibility they could go even deeper,” a federal budget expert tells Power Corridor.

So, before you drink to ending government shutdowns – check what’s in your water.