Right-wing ‘Freedom Caucus’ tries to force dangerous cuts through Congress
Republican House Speaker McCarthy is literally being held hostage by the extreme right "Freedom Caucus" who are trying to force a government shutdown before the beginning of next month. He sold his soul to them in order to get the votes he needed to become Speaker of the House. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

WASHINGTON—Welcome to right wing Republican obstruction and threats of a shutdown—again.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., unveiled a temporary money bill to keep the government going through Halloween, but cutting spending by 8.1% overall for everything but the military and veterans affairs.

That cut violates a $1.741 trillion spending cap McCarthy reached earlier this year with Democratic President Joe Biden and the Democratic-led Senate.

In the latest example of the chaos the slim Republican majority in the U.S. House has created, McCarthy’s measure wasn’t good enough for the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” a group of about 40 extreme Trumpites—the tail that wags the GOP dog and the McCarthy lapdog. They immediately started shooting at it. With a majority of 222-212, McCarthy can’t afford to lose five Republicans.

To co-opt chants often heard in demonstrations, the Freedom Caucus theme is “If we don’t get it, shut it down.” “It” being the federal government. Their second “it” is impeaching Biden, without any evidence whatsoever for any high crimes and misdemeanors and without any evidence whatsoever for even an impeachment inquiry.

Want money to build Wall

McCarthy’s measure—and the Freedom Caucus’s demand—includes money to resume building former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump’s racist Mexican Wall, which Congress rejected even when Trump was the White House denizen.

The caucus also wants no spending to combat global warming, an 80% cut in federal education aid to schools with heavy shares of poor (read: minority) kids and eliminating money for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“If we’re not going to secure the United States of America, we shouldn’t fund the government that REFUSES to do so!” retorted a Freedom Caucus leader, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, at a press conference.

But Roy also admitted the temporary money bill, called a continuing resolution (CR), would die in the Democratic-run Senate if it’s loaded up with social issue riders—such as the Mexican Wall, a ban on military money going to “woke” diversity and inclusion programs, and a ban on asylum seekers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I will NOT surrender,” screams another Freedom Caucus extremist, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. Gaetz also demands the House impeach Biden now—forget evidence and hearings—or he’ll file an internal House motion to eject McCarthy from the Speaker’s chair.

A government shutdown at midnight September 30, except for “essential” workers such as air traffic controllers, would harm everyone.

And the essential workers will have to toil without getting paid.

That upsets unions which represent them, notably the Government Employees (AFGE). They’re lobbying furiously for a “clean” temporary money bill to keep the lights on after October 1—and to ensure all federal workers, “essential” or not, get paid.

“AFGE is urging Congress to ensure adequate funding for all agencies, especially those facing deep cuts in the House such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Social Security Administration,” it’s fact sheet reports.

All two million other federal workers would sit home, unable to serve the public and also without paychecks, even as their bills keep coming in, says AFGE.

Very low prospects

“Given the very low prospects for passing all 12” federal funding “bills in September, AFGE is urging passage of a clean CR by September 30 so Congress can work on a full-year funding bill before the end of the year,” the union fact sheet says.

“Expect fireworks between the House and Senate as they work to agree to a short-term spending deal and avoid an early October government shutdown,” AFGE Legislative/Political Director Julie Shippens predicts.

Other lawmakers blame the Freedom Caucus if the government shuts down.

“House Republicans want to shut down the government because House Democrats, Senate Republicans and Democrats, and President Biden oppose their extreme cuts that will make working families pay even more for the things they need,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, which would actually craft a CR and regular money bills, too.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., says the way to end the Capitol Hill CR war, solve the impasse and keep the lights on is to bargain in good faith.

“The House and Senate—Democrats and Republicans—all must get on the same page about keeping the government open and avoiding a pointless shutdown,” Schumer told his colleagues when senators came back to work on September 5. The “shutdown will hurt just about every single American. It “shouldn’t happen.

The right wingers want more cuts in all the non-military spending, such as zeroing out dollars to combat global warming, cutting federal education aid to schools with heavy shares of poor (read: minority) kids by 80% and eliminating money for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The Freedom Caucus also demands lawmakers “address what they call the ‘unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI’ to conduct political ‘witch hunts.’” This is Trumpite code for “Trump is innocent. Go after Joe and Hunter Biden.”

The tug of war on Capitol Hill also gave lobbies their loophole to worm their clients’ pet projects and causes into the regular money bills.

“None of them have anything to do with funding our government, and none of them could become law on their own merits. Nearly all are special favors for big corporations and ideological extremists,” says Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen.

For example, one Big Tobacco-crafted rider bans the feds from ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars and won’t let the government “propose a rule to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes to make them less addictive.” In 2022, Big Tobacco gave $4.9 million to right-wing SuperPACs, allowing Big Tobacco to hide its money.

Another takes Mifepristone, the safe and effective abortion medication, out of U.S. pharmacies. Only prescribers in hospitals, clinics, and medical offices could approve it for women. Anti-choice extremists spent $1.5 million in lobbying, after $2.7 million in campaign contributions in the last election cycle, to push that one through, Open Secrets reports reveal, Gilbert said.

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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.