What you need to know
Now you might be thinking: Didn’t we just go through this whole cycle a few months ago? The brinksmanship, the urgent warnings, the crisis over government funding? Why on earth is this happening again?
The short answer: Because Republicans have handed the car keys to the most extreme members of their caucus and they’re driving us all off a cliff.
The long answer: The May default crisis was resolved in the nick of time with a deal between President Biden and Kevin McCarthy. That deal set top-line spending levels for the coming year’s budget.
Extreme MAGA Republicans have spent the last several months agitating against the deal. Their demands are wide-ranging and radical. They want dramatic cuts to federal programs. They want to defund the DOJ and aid to Ukraine. They want to restrict access to medication abortion. They want drastic cuts to social safety net programs. In short, they want to move the goalposts for the budget process into right-wing fantasy land. As a result, Republican House members are currently literally unable to agree with each other on how to fund the federal government.
Now, this would not be a problem if Kevin McCarthy was willing to ignore the MAGA caucus. Because he does have enough votes in the House to pass the original deal. It’s just that he’d need Democratic votes to do it. And he’s committed to his caucus that he won’t pass a funding bill unless it can pass with only Republican votes.
This crisis could also be resolved if even a handful of Republicans were willing to go against their party and sign a discharge petition to allow Democrats to bring a bipartisan bill to the floor. A discharge petition is a tactic that allows a majority of Congress members to override the Speaker and put a bill on the floor. Plenty of Republicans (especially the ones who are worried about their re-elections, like the Unrepresentatives) are giving quotes about being frustrated, or how they wish their party would get its act together. Every time you hear that, just remember: it would take 6 Republicans signing a discharge petition to allow Democrats to bring a bipartisan bill to the floor. If your representative isn’t willing to do this, then their words are meaningless.
It’s common for the media to frame shutdowns as a “both sides” issue. But let’s be clear: This is not a situation where “Washington is broken” or “the two sides can’t work it out.” The deal has been reached. The votes for the deal are there. That’s not the problem. The problem is that Republicans, under pressure from their most extreme MAGA members, have unilaterally abandoned the deal. They would rather shut the government down than simply work with Democrats to pass the budget deal they already agreed to.
Don’t just take our word for it — here’s the same point from an unlikely source:
Said arsonist Matt Gaetz, “We cannot blame the Democrats for having not done our job to comply with the coalition agreement that we made at the beginning of the year. That is the fault of the Speaker.”
All of this would be comical if there weren’t such awful consequences for the rest of us. The pain of a government shutdown is enormous. Essential services for seniors, working families, the military, and first responders are disrupted. Kids go hungry because programs like WIC and SNAP lose funding. Disaster relief funding — like money for the survivors of the Maui fires — is delayed or cut. And crucial government functions like food safety inspections and air travel oversight risk disruption.
Everyone loses when MAGA Republicans get their way.
OK, so what do we do about it?
There are two things we need to do here:
First, we need to get out of this mess without rewarding Republicans’ terrible behavior. If you’ve got a Democratic representative, you should be telling them to stand strong. If you’ve got a Republican representative, you should be putting the heat on them — especially if you’ve got a Republican who represents a flippable district, or who’s in principle opposed to their party’s shenanigans.
Second, if a shutdown does occur, we need to make sure that the public understands that it’s a product of Republican extremism and dysfunction. Republicans are doing something very unpopular (shutting down the government) to try to get something else that’s also very unpopular (cuts to essential programs for families, seniors, and more). They need to pay a political price for it. Fortunately, we’ve got a plan for that – an entire campaign. Join our Unrepresentatives Project and help us hold the most vulnerable Republicans accountable.
The reality is that for these folks, the election season has already started. If this shutdown drags on, we’ve got to make sure they see consequences for it.
Co-founder and Co-Executive Director, of Indivisible