WASHINGTON – The majority of right-wingers in the House and Senate have retreated, for now, from trying to immediately shut down large parts of the federal government. However, they might soon try again.
Resolutions passed by large majorities in both houses yesterday guarantee that federal agencies will continue receiving their current levels of funding until December 11, about 10 weeks from now. That’s the deadline for passing a budget for the current fiscal year, which ends in September, 2016. The “continuing resolutions” were adopted by 277 to 151 in the House and by 78 to 20 in the Senate.
Egged on by Senator Ted Cruz, R.-Texas, and his tea party cronies, the majority of Republicans in both houses for weeks had threatened to shut down the government if federal funding was continued for Planned Parenthood, a women’s health organization that right-wingers have had in their crosshairs for many years. First, they used the threat of a shutdown to try and pass a continuing resolution without funds for Planned Parenthood. When that failed, they tried to kill the continuing resolutions altogether. That failed in the Senate because Cruz and company were unable to get enough votes to block a potential filibuster by Democrats.
In fact, when Cruz began what threatened to become a filibuster against the continuing resolution, he was shut down by shouts from his fellow Republicans. If you google “the most hated man in the Senate,” up pops Ted Cruz.
It’s not that Republican leaders disagree with Cruz on his stand against Planned Parenthood or on his stands against many of the government’s domestic programs. It’s that they figured this way: why shut down the government through a continuing resolution that will expire soon anyway? Let’s jump into budget negotiations with the White House and if we don’t get our way, we can shutter the government come December 11.
Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought to a vote the measure that kept federal agencies going, he said “It doesn’t represent my first, second, third or 23rd choice when it comes to funding the government, but it will keep the government open through the fall.” He did not promise to fund the government beyond that.
Senator Rand Paul, R.-Ky., offered this advice to his colleagues. They might soon accept it:
“Why don’t we start out with the negotiating position that we defund everything that’s objectionable … let’s start from defunding it all and see where we get.
“But it would take courage, because you have to let spending expire,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the House: last week, Speaker John Boehner failed in his attempt at convincing Republicans to support the strategy of waiting to wreak havoc until budget negotiations commence. Rather than risking the loss of his position in a vote of no confidence, he announced he will resign from Congress at the end of October.
That left him plenty of time to put the continuing resolution up for a vote and it left Republicans with no leader to organize a move to oppose it. Rather than fall into total chaos, the majority of Republicans reluctantly voted to keep the government temporarily going.
However, tea party Republicans in the House now feel emboldened. They are demanding that Boehner’s heir apparent, Kevin McCarthy, R.-Calif., demonstrate to them that he is their kind of guy.
They are demanding that he continue the fight against Planned Parenthood. They are pushing him to negotiate with the White House for more military spending and for less spending on education and other domestic programs.
Most important, right wingers are insisting McCarthy lead the charge for a government shutdown if the Obama Administration doesn’t yield to their demands.
At present, McCarthy is House Majority Leader. For the moment, he is refraining from stating exactly how far he is willing to go toward satisfying the tea partiers, but he has blasted the Environmental Protection Agency, and said “I don’t need to fund a lot of money there.”
Furthermore, McCarthy has promised to “lead the fight for conservatism while healing divisions in the [Republican] conference.”
Meanwhile, Cruz and Paul are trying to bolster support for their presidential campaigns among tea party types and other right wingers. Each one is trying to be more right wing than the other and is trying to drag all Republicans into the “get our way or shut it down” camp.
Photo: The Capitol Dome, covered with scaffolding, is seen though flowers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 30. On Wednesday, the Senate easily approved a stopgap spending bill to avert government shutdown; House followed. | AP