Congress In Disarray

Last week, Washington has been focused on one thing—whether or not the government will shut down at the end of the month. In a normal year, Congressional appropriators aim to provide discretionary funds for all programs and departments of the Federal government through 12 annual spending measures that run from October 1 through September 30 of the following calendar year. Members use this process to modify the previous year’s funding levels and the specific terms controlling how those funds are spent, and they also use these bills to collectively provide billions of dollars of Congressionally Directed Spending, or earmarks.

This year, the appropriations process has been mired in a political and policy logjam, largely as a result of intraparty disagreement between House Republicans. To date, none of the 12 bills has been enacted, leaving Congress just over a week from a whole-of-government shutdown without a clear path forward, and barring a compromise that has eluded lawmakers to date, the government will begin to shut down on October 1.

While Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-NY) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) both agree that a government shutdown would be bad for the country, the House and Senate are lightyears apart in terms of funding levels, policy provisions, and even an interest in reaching compromise. To the Senate’s credit, this is the first year in many where appropriators have moved their bills in regular order in a bipartisan manner, and in all likelihood, they will have all 12 of their annual funding bills passed by next week. But it takes two to tango, and the House is not even close to this stage. At this time, the House has passed only one bill – military construction and veterans affairs – and Speaker McCarthy is having trouble getting even the Defense spending bill to the floor, which would typically be a layup (though they’re trying again today).

Given the distance between the House and Senate, a Continuing Resolution (CR) is the obvious solution, however, a significant number the House Freedom Caucus are refusing to either (a) vote on any CR or (b) vote on any CR that does not impose a series of cuts that would make it dead-on-arrival in the Senate. As sure as a Freedom Caucus package would fail in the Senate, so would any Senate package fail in the House—unless Speaker McCarthy is willing to make a deal with House Democrats to pass it. This might work, but it would incite the ire of the Freedom Caucus, several of whom have threatened to exercise their right to vacate the chair, which would require Speaker McCarthy to rally a majority of the House to remain Speaker. Democrats can provide the Speaker with sufficient votes to allow him to act in that manner, but again, they may not. And if they don’t, any activity to find a new speaker would, at the very least, be time consuming, which only furthers the possibility of a prolonged shutdown. While it is unclear if a shutdown will happen or how long it would last if it does, one thing is certain—those causing the shutdown tend to receive the political fallout. And with Speaker McCarthy currently in a tough spot, Democrats may not be interested in tossing him a lifeline—and he may not be seeking one, instead giving into the Freedom Caucus’ demands, even if they have no path forward in the Senate.

Whether a shutdown lasts a few hours or a few weeks, it will surely wreak widespread impact, as agencies will be limited to only their essential staff, and any non-essential functions, projects, or initiatives will be held until the government reopens. In addition to appropriations, the current FAA reauthorization and the Farm Bill will lapse on September 30 as well, which means that aviation and agricultural programs will also begin to wind down.

The timing of this shutdown is a perfect storm of sorts, and while nobody knows for sure what the outcome will be, one thing is certain—the next few weeks will be a sort of organized chaos, and we will be fighting to ensure EMA’s interests are continually protected from any legislative whipsaws out there.