Another Government Shutdown Looms Over 11th Hour Budget Negotiations

Editors note: An agreement was announced late Tuesday and the $1.1 trillion spending bill will be debated today. The spending bill funds the government – with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security – until September 30, 2015. A House vote is expected to take place tomorrow.

On Monday, December 8, funding negotiations were bogged down over disagreements over peripheral programs attached to the spending plan. Congress must pass an appropriations bill that will fund the federal government by Thursday to avoid a repeat of the 16-day government shutdown in 2013. Party leaders have voiced an eagerness not to let that happen, which may lead them to extend the December 11 deadline by a few days if an agreement isn’t reached.

What is Being Debated?

Democrats and Republicans alike are continuing to work toward a $1.1 trillion appropriations bill, but members of both sides have slowed progress.

Democrats have stated that any budget that defunds the president’s executive order on immigration would result in a “no” vote from party members. A majority of Republicans have chosen to work within those terms after passing their symbolic HR 5759. However, conservative hardliners like U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are demanding the Republican leadership push for a stronger stand on immigration.

Still, other lawmakers have followed suit, demanding certain peripheral projects be attached to the spending bill. The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), has used negotiations over the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2014 to change the Dodd-Frank Act. Meanwhile, members of the House Education and Workforce Committee submitted changes to multiemployer pension plans.

What Would a Deal Look Like?

In order to avoid the same repercussions as 2013, House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that the plan would fund the majority of the government until September 2015. The only exception is the Department of Homeland Security — the department that oversees immigration enforcement — which would only be funded until early next spring.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has decried ‘destructive’ riders attached to the spending plan, saying:

“There are some very destructive riders in it that would be unacceptable to us and I think unacceptable to the American people.” Pelosi continued,” Whatever you think of them they have no place on an appropriations bill. When it comes to lowering standards for school lunches, for our children. When it comes to lowering standards of clean water, for our communities.” – Nancy Pelosi

GOP leaders appear to be optimistic that their spending plan will pass. Pelosi and other Democrats have stated an unwillingness to let the government shut down, but not without protecting possible leverage.

However, if a shutdown were to result, chances are blame would land squarely on the lap of Republicans, who now control both chambers in Congress. A CNN/ORC poll found that 50 percent of those surveyed would blame the majority party if a shutdown occurred.

A Quinnipiac University Poll found that 68 percent of Americans would be opposed to another government shutdown, which was politically detrimental for both parties — the consequences of which are still evident in Congress’ current approval rating of 12.8 percent.

Consequences for the GOP

On a December 2 broadcast of The Kelly File on Fox News, Senator Rand Paul (R) supported Boehner’s plan which would protect the GOP politically while funding the government into the middle of next year.

“[I] think shutting down the government won’t do any good,” Paul said. “We don’t have the power until January comes. In January, though, we have the power to write all of the appropriations bills and to, in minute detail, tell the president how the money is to be spent. So we have a great deal of power beginning in January, and we should use all of that, but we shouldn’t use it to shut down the government in December. I don’t think that will help anybody.” – Rand Paul

Paul’s sentiment lies in contrast to other members of the GOP, like Sen. Cruz. When speaking at a Capitol Hill rally on December 3, Cruz said:

“I think we should fund virtually the entire federal government… We should, however, not be funding illegal amnesty.”

Both Paul and Cruz are junior senators with sharp contrasts in their vision for public policy and the Republican Party’s future. Cruz’s platform calls for a more direct and stronger stance by Republicans on both social and economic issues. Paul, on the other hand, has taken a more inclusive stance on social issues, like marijuana legalization, while remaining firm on government spending.

Paul is concerned with reshaping the GOP image in the wake of years of bad publicity and declining public opinion. Cruz’s ardent actions and demands of fellow Republicans to move further right has won him the support of more conservative Americans, but polarized popular opinion in the process.

Both lawmakers have the ability and following to shape not only the upcoming presidential election but the Republican Party itself.

Photo: Orhan Cam / shutterstock.com