Democrat Schakowsky blocks GOP Social Security cuts in money bill
Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois | AP

WASHINGTON—Once again waiting till the last minute, Congress approved a temporary money bill, called a continuing resolution (CR), to keep the government going, its lights on, and its functions continuing through early March. The measure averts a scheduled shutdown.

Republican right-wingers tried to insert a special, political “commission” into the money bill with the aim of cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., organized a successful effort involving more than 100 House Democrats, backed by several unions, to stop it.

The commission idea was a hard-right scheme to set up a cabal of outsiders—read “political appointees”—to propose cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

116 House Democrats wrote Johnson saying that wouldn’t fly, with the implication they would oppose the CR if the commission was included. Rep. Schakowsky, along with Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., led that effort. They also warned Johnson not to try to insert the commission into other legislation.

The Government Employees lobbied strongly against it. The union represents Social Security workers, but it spoke for organized labor in opposing the cuts in those programs—especially since payroll taxes from workers and firms fund Social Security and Medicare.

“A fiscal commission would give a small group of lawmakers and non-elected individuals enormous power to recommend cuts to Social Security and other popular programs without any ability for the public to weigh in,” AFGE President Everett Kelley said.

“If Congress is serious about preserving Social Security, Medicare, and similar programs for future generations, then it needs to have an honest discussion about how to do that–not pawn off these decisions to a secret group behind closed doors.”

“It is Congress’s responsibility to conduct the oversight and recommend enhancements to solvency or cuts, and it should be done in the open and not behind closed doors,” the Schakowsky-Larson letter said. “We do not need a commission to tell us what we must do, we need the political courage to take up these or any other proposals in regular order.”

Key vote in the House

The key vote on the bill to keep the government open was in the Republican-run House, where Democrats, who are barely in the minority, provided most of the votes for the CR in the 314-108 tally. Earlier on January 18, the Senate passed it on a bipartisan vote, 77-18. Senate Republicans were all 18 “no” votes. House Republicans were 106 of the 108 “no”s there—more than one of every two voting Republicans.

The continuing resolution extends funding for the Agriculture, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Energy Departments and their related agencies through March 1. The rest of the government, including the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services and their related agencies, will be funded through March 8.

Most importantly, the funding for those departments and agencies will be at fiscal 2023 levels—which were set by the Democratic-run 117th Congress almost two years ago.

That means drastic cuts right-wing MAGA Republicans advocate and wrote into draft money bills, such as a $99 million (33%) cut in National Labor Relations Board money, don’t take effect.

Ditto for Republicans’ schemes to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from OSHA, which enforces job safety and health standards, and from the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, which chases and catches corporate wage thieves. And from education money, the EPA, and every other domestic program. But not from the military.

A random survey of union websites turned up a comment from the Teachers (AFT). It gloated over the fact the CR also lacks the “poison pill” riders, such as banning abortion, “woke” programs, and diversity education that the right-wing MAGA Republican zealots demand. And the Government Employees (AFGE) \ also lobbied for a “clean” CR, without the poison pills.

“The House just passed a continuing resolution to avoid MAGA Republicans’ attempt to force a government shutdown! House Republicans were playing hardball with the lives of the American people in the hopes their extremist demands would be met,” AFT tweeted.

But House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins the night before “I think we’ll be able to get our policy riders and our policy changes.” That’s assuming Congress passes all the regular money bills for each agency, rather than continuing to fund them through more continuing resolutions.

“Passing this measure will allow us the time we need to hammer out those funding bills for fiscal year ‘24—after many months of needless delays,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., who engineered smooth passage there.

“I think we all want this to be a drama-free and reliable process. So I hope House Republicans will work with us to make that possible now too—which means leaving extreme partisan demands at the door.”

The hard-right Trumpite Republican Freedom Caucus tried to throw a monkey wrench into the money bill by attaching one of their favorite social issues—a complete and total ban on migration into the U.S., from beyond the U.S.-Mexico border.

The right-wingers’ god, former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, says migrants are invading the country. He wants to ban them from entering and throw out undocumented people already here. Johnson, who voted in the past for migrant limits, turned the caucus down.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.