The federal government is weeks away from a shutdown due to House GOP inaction, again

Mike Johnson

The federal government could face more shutdowns early in the new year.

President Joe Biden signed a stopgap spending bill on Nov. 16 to keep some agencies funded until Jan. 19, 2024, and others through Feb. 2. But thanks to many House Republicans refusing to honor a bipartisan agreement on spending levels made by then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Biden in May, the government could run out of money after the temporary funding expires.

Spending bills typically must go through the House of Representatives first, before moving on to the Senate and being signed by the president. The House was supposed to pass all 12 appropriations bills by Sept. 30, but the Republican majority has been unable to agree on spending levels and policy language for many of the bills.

In October, House Republicans voted to make Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson the new House speaker after he promised a tight schedule of votes on remaining appropriations bills in October and November. “This is an ambitious schedule,” he told colleagues in an Oct. 23 letter, “but if our Speaker can work across the Conference to unify our membership and build consensus, we can achieve our necessary objectives.”

That has not happened. 

Facing conservative opposition to spending legislation, House Republicans opted to cancel votes and instead head home for a Thanksgiving recess. “It’s never easy to get work done around here. It’s a lot harder when you have people who I think are prone to emotionally immature decisions,” South Dakota Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson told Axios.

No appropriations votes are scheduled for the week of Nov. 27, according to House Majority Leader Steve Scalise’s (R-LA)  schedule.

In the Democratic-led Senate, the Committee on Appropriations reached bipartisan agreement in September on all 12 spending bills at the levels agreed to in May. The full Senate approved a package of three of those bills on an 82-15 vote on Nov. 1.

But rather than reach similar bipartisan agreements to avoid shutdowns in January and February, members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus are instead signaling they hope to force automatic spending cuts across the board.

“Our message should be clear: House Republicans will combat inflation and the woke and weaponized federal bureaucracy by securing gimmick-free spending cuts and conservative policy riders through the passage of individual appropriations bills,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), the group’s policy director, wrote in a Nov. 28 Washington Examiner op-ed. “If we face resistance from Democrats or even our own Appropriators, Speaker Johnson should automatically trigger FRA spending cuts by defaulting to a CR that expires on September 30, 2024.”

The website Punchbowl News reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration, House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and Senate Democrats all plan to insist on the spending levels previously agreed upon. 

Should a stalemate with House Republicans lead to a partial shutdown, essential functions of government like military and air traffic control operations would continue. But public employees would go unpaid and other key programs would grind to a halt, leaving no FDA food safety inspections, no processing of new Social Security claims, and fewer services for veterans.

Government shutdowns in recent years caused billions of dollars in damage to the nation’s economy.