U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing a significant challenge as he attempts to rally his divided caucus to prevent a government shutdown. The deadline for passing spending legislation to keep federal agencies operational and avoid a shutdown is September 30. However, disagreements within the Republican Party on spending, policy, and impeachment have caused divisions and hindered progress in both the House and the Senate.
The political brinkmanship surrounding the potential shutdown has caught the attention of Wall Street, with rating agency Fitch downgrading the U.S. debt rating earlier this year due to concerns about the government’s ability to pay its bills. House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries has described the situation as a Republican “civil war,” highlighting the internal conflicts within the party. Additionally, a dispute over abortion access has led to a Senate Republican blocking the confirmation of senior military officers.
McCarthy has expressed his hope to move forward with a defense appropriations bill this week, but hardliners have withheld support unless the spending level is reduced. Despite negotiations over the weekend, McCarthy acknowledged that progress had been made but emphasized that the House would proceed with the bill regardless of the outcome. Late on Sunday, an agreement was reached between hardline and moderate House Republicans on a short-term stopgap spending bill, which could facilitate progress on the defense legislation. However, it remains uncertain whether the bill will receive enough Republican support to pass the House.
Both the defense bill and the stopgap spending bill are unlikely to succeed with Democrats and become law. The stopgap bill includes spending cuts and immigration and border security restrictions that Democrats reject. McCarthy, with a slim majority in the House, can only afford to lose a few votes to pass legislation that Democrats oppose. He has pledged to keep the House in session until the government funding legislation is in place, emphasizing that a shutdown benefits no one.
Some members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus openly support a shutdown as a negotiating tactic to advance their spending and conservative policy priorities. Moderate Republicans, on the other hand, believe that Congress will ultimately adhere to the spending level agreed upon by Biden and McCarthy. If the House fails to make progress on spending, Republican leaders may be forced to negotiate directly with Senate Democrats on appropriations bills, bypassing hardliners. This approach aims to achieve bipartisan legislation that can quickly pass both chambers and be signed into law by Biden. However, such a move could have dire consequences for McCarthy, who is already facing the threat of being ousted from his position as Speaker.
McCarthy’s decision to open an impeachment inquiry of Biden has also raised concerns among House Republicans. Some fear that this move could hinder cooperation on spending issues with Democrats. The White House has criticized the impeachment probe as baseless, and many moderate Republicans have not seen any concrete evidence of wrongdoing by the president.
As the deadline for avoiding a government shutdown approaches, the focus remains on resolving the internal divisions within the Republican Party and reaching a bipartisan agreement on spending. Failure to do so could result in a shutdown and further political consequences for McCarthy.
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