We’re five days from the Republican Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House shutting the government down.
Now, this is not the kind of shut down that occurs when we hit the limit of debt allowed. This is the kind of shut down where, even if the government has 80% of the funds needed, no one is authorized to spend any of it – except, Biden has assured the world, necessary military spending will continue.
Now it’s theoretically possible that Congress could extend the deadline – just pass a little bill saying everyone may spend at last year’s rate until we get this thing settled – and not smack into a hard wall. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has one ready – but the Republican Freedom Caucus doesn’t seem willing to play that game.
Just what does the Freedom Caucus want, why do members have so much power, and what is about to happen?
I couldn’t find a website for the caucus – and “X,” formerly known as Twitter, requires a password I don’t have – and the Facebook page seems less used than in former years. There have been 20 posts this year. During March there were several with a “shrink Washington, invest in America” theme, followed by others bragging a bit about the debt limit compromise that the caucus now refuses to honor.
Video of a caucus press conference on Sept.12 shows congressmen calling Biden a tyrant with his foot on the neck of America and blames him for everything wrong with America. One speaker gave a spirited indictment of an omnibus budget bill that appears too late for input before a vote. That’s hardly relevant this year when the Senate managed to pass 12 budget bills weeks ago.
The demands caucus members are adding to the budget bills tell us much more. Spend nothing more to help Ukraine defeat the Russian invaders. Forbid abortions in every state after six weeks. Cut discretionary spending on items such as Border Protection agents, the WIC food assistance program, rail inspectors, and education staff by 8%.
It’s uncertain why the Freedom Caucus is claiming more power than they had in March. Possibly, appeasement then has inflated the group’s self-conceit.
The numbers appear to be the same. The caucus doesn’t list its members and membership in the caucus is by invitation only. One website lists 45 representatives who claim to be members – including Idaho’s Russ Fulcher – and other sources cite similar figures.
The House has 435 members so a majority is 218; Republicans hold 222 seats. Since Speaker Kevin McCarthy chose negotiating with the Freedom Caucus rather with the Democrats, defection by only five Republicans can kill any bill. And five Republicans, voting with Democrats, twice killed the defense budget last week.
Democrats aren’t about to vote for bills that defund Ukraine and spread abortion bans.
Last Wednesday the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus presented a bill that would postpone the deadline for three months. It uses the budget numbers from the March compromise, gives the Democrats funds for Ukraine, and gives Republicans extra funding for border security.
Speaker McCarthy could kill the bill himself. If he supports it, and the bill is as narrow as the description in The Hill, there should be enough votes for it to pass.
But another force is also at work. Former President Donald Trump has called for defunding the government to stop his “political prosecutions” by the “weaponized” Biden administration.
That may explain why the Freedom Caucus isn’t worried whether its bills would ever pass the Senate.