We're 10 days away from a government shutdown.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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We're going to write about the alleged kidnapping plot of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), the FBI's involvement in recruiting people to that plot, and the nature of how these sting operations often work. You'll want to read this one, but don't forget: Friday editions are for members only.
- The Federal Reserve opted to leave interest rates unchanged and indicated that they anticipate one more hike before the year ends. (The decision)
- President Biden met with Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time since the Israeli Prime Minister returned to office nine months ago. (The meeting)
- Attorney General Merrick Garland testified before the House Judiciary Committee in a contentious hearing related to investigations into Hunter Biden, Donald Trump, and January 6. (The testimony)
- The Senate voted to confirm Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, marking the first military promotion since Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) began blocking batch promotions in protest of the military's abortion travel policy. (The confirmation)
- Rupert Murdoch announced he will step down as chairman of the Fox Corporation board and the News Corporation board. His son, Lachlan, is expected to take over. (The announcement)
A potential government shutdown. This week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has struggled to wrangle his caucus as they attempt to pass a new spending bill. Government funding runs out in 10 days and a government shutdown now seems inevitable.
Back up: Each year, the U.S. government passes 12 appropriations bills that fund government operations before a new fiscal year begins. The new fiscal year begins October 1, which is the deadline for passing the appropriations bills. Typically, when all 12 appropriations bills aren't passed in time, Congress and the president keep the government working by passing short-term extensions of current funding, called continuing resolutions (CR). For the last few decades, Congress has been especially bad at passing appropriations bills on time, and often passes continuing resolutions and then giant omnibus bills (a combination of all 12 appropriations bills at once) to keep the government running. Congress has passed zero of the 12 appropriations bills so far this year, and the House has only passed one. Now, they are having trouble agreeing to a CR to keep the government running.
Why now? House Republicans have a thin 221-212 majority in the House and cannot lose more than four votes without needing some Democrats to advance legislation. Speaker Kevin McCarthy was elected in a contentious battle that required him giving major concessions to the 5-10 conservatives in the right-flank of his party, including the ability for any individual member to call for a snap vote to potentially remove him. Now, those lawmakers are flexing their muscle once again to get what they want in upcoming spending bills.
Their demands vary, but roughly speaking, some members want McCarthy to cut more spending than he agreed to in the debt ceiling deal struck with Democrats in the spring, while others want a long-term plan to address the debt. Additional demands include a guarantee to pursue impeachment against Biden, promises to stop funding Ukraine, and commitments to increasing spending on the border. However, many of these proposals would be dead on arrival in the Senate, so McCarthy and other more moderate Republicans are struggling to chart a path forward that will result in a workable deal.
On Sunday, the hard-right House Freedom Caucus and moderate Republican Main Street Caucus came to an agreement on a CR that would extend government funding for 30 days, cut most federal agencies' discretionary spending by 8%, and preserve military and veteran funds. The agreement also includes some of the border security proposals House Republicans passed in May but could not get through the Senate. But some House Republicans, including members of the Freedom Caucus, rejected it, despite the fact that some Freedom Caucus leaders had supported the legislation.
On Wednesday, McCarthy appeared to cave to the right flank, moving to pass a CR at the $1.47 trillion level in discretionary spending (which is the same as Republicans' Limit, Save, Grow Act from this spring). The CR also added restrictions on U.S. immigration and border policy and left out any money for Ukraine or disaster relief funding.
It's unclear whether the CR will even pass in the House, but if it does get to the Senate, they are expected to gut it and send it back to the House with Ukraine funding and disaster relief restored. McCarthy will then have to decide between working with Democrats to pass something, or sticking to the party line and allowing the government to shut down. If the CR doesn't pass the House, McCarthy will be left facing the same dilemma: work with Democrats, or allow a shutdown.
While all this is going on, the Problem Solvers Caucus — a bipartisan group of moderates — is working on an alternative to the GOP plan that would fund the government through January 11, pass all 12 appropriations bills for the next fiscal year, include the $24 billion of funding for Ukraine requested by the White House, allocate $16 billion for disaster relief, and tack on new immigration rules similar to Title 42 that would allow Biden to address the crisis on the border by expelling or rejecting migrants more quickly.
What happens if the government shuts down? During shutdowns, many federal employees are asked not to come to work, though they will get paid retroactively when the shutdown ends. Essential services like air traffic control, law enforcement, and the military continue operating, and Social Security and Medicare benefits will still be disbursed. Some common and critical services, however, slow down or stop altogether. You might experience delays in things like applying for passports or small business loans. Food safety inspections and tax audits will be fewer. Economic reports from the Labor Department on inflation or unemployment may be delayed. National parks and museums funded by the government will close.
There have been 14 shutdowns since 1981. Some were brief, lasting only a day or two, while the longest in U.S. history was 35 days. That happened from 2018 into early 2019 when Donald Trump held out for $5.7 billion for a border wall (the shutdown ended without the funding ever being approved).
Today, we're going to take a look at some commentary from the right and left about this shutdown, then my take.
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Many commentators on the left and right are skeptical of government shutdowns being an effective way to elicit change and criticize Congress for not having a strategy to address spending or get what they want out of a shutdown. Many on both sides also believe a government shutdown would do more political damage to Republicans than Democrats.
What the right is saying.
- The right is conflicted on the prospect of a shutdown, with many concerned that it will be a political loser for Republicans.
- Some argue drastic measures are necessary to force lawmakers to reckon with out-of-control government spending.
- Others say those pushing for a shutdown have no coherent plan after that.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized the GOP for “wasting its majority on foolish shutdown threats.”
“The details of the internecine feuding are too boring to relate to busy readers. But the essence of the problem is that too many Republicans have forgotten the reality of the current Beltway balance of power. Their only hold on power is a four-vote majority in the House, one of the narrowest in history. They don’t hold the Senate or the White House,” the board said. “House Republicans can’t even pass the defense or homeland security spending bills, which should be the easiest and contain many GOP priorities on military spending and border security. Recalcitrant Members—'snipers inside the perimeter'—are demanding that somehow the House cut even more spending than the debt-ceiling bill stipulated. They’re willing to shut down the government to make their point, which is the equivalent of holding your breath until you pass out.
“The party that seeks a shutdown is always blamed” by voters, and Republicans “will get few if any policy victories” by forcing a shutdown now. “This is all so obvious—so Civics 101—that it’s amazing to watch men and women who ran for Congress refuse to get it. Too many Republicans apparently come to Washington these days mainly to blow things up and count their TikTok followers,” the board said. “[Republicans] lack the votes to significantly change the direction of policy. To do that they need bigger majorities and control of the Senate. On their current path, however, and if they shut down the government in a stupid, futile gesture, all they’ll do is make it easier to turn the gavel over to Speaker Jeffries.”
In The Hill, Brian Darling said “a good old government shutdown is exactly what we need right now.”
“Although the House Freedom Caucus will not get all it wants, its members are fighting a just battle that will put downward pressure on the level of spending in any final appropriations deal. As a preliminary matter, this is a good fight to have — good politically and good for the nation. Our federal government is projected to run up between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion in debt this year alone. The Congressional Budget Office projects that outlays this year will be $6.4 trillion with only $4.8 trillion in revenues,” Darling wrote. In these budget fights, Republicans usually “settle for a continuing resolution, kicking the proverbial can down the road. But that is not an option this year, because a continuing resolution would continue spending at the elevated post-COVID pandemic levels, well above $6 trillion for fiscal 2024.”
Democrats and the media are sure to “accuse Republicans of destroying the government and the economy with a shutdown. But in truth, this would be a shutdown in name only. The Antideficiency Act allows core government functions to continue while the non-essential elements of the federal government are shuttered. Failure to pass appropriations bills will do nothing to stop our military from defending America,” Darling said. “The Freedom Caucus is right to hold the line on spending. And anything it can do to defund the far-left agenda of the Biden administration is an option that will both move the ball forward on good policy and push the budget closer to balance.”
In RedState, Joe Cunningham said McCarthy has led the House to chaos by trying to be “all things to all people.”
“A shutdown isn't a guaranteed loser by any means, but a caucus in chaos is a guaranteed way to look like a joke to voters, and the buck stops with the man in charge: Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is a lifelong Big Government Republican who wasn't just part of the Establishment but actually helped create it. He makes deals with everyone he can in order to maintain power and influence. But, like the dog who caught the car, he does not seem to have a plan now that he has the power and influence he sought. The Republicans are being derailed not by conservative reformers but by people who hate McCarthy personally,” Cunningham said.
“Under normal circumstances, I'd be excited for a government shutdown. But there has to be a plan. There needs to be a condition for victory. Or at least an honorable retreat. But the holdouts don't have a plan. Solid conservatives, like Byron Donalds and Chip Roy, had a plan, but those holdouts sided with Democrats and scuttled it. And, because of that, it seems like McCarthy doesn't seem to have a plan, either,” Cunningham wrote. “McCarthy tried to be all things to all people. He tried to come across as a conservative, despite his big spending past. He sought the power of the office but once he got there, he began flailing. The result is a caucus that cannot properly stand against the Democrats and their excessive government spending.”
What the left is saying.
- The left puts the blame squarely on House Republicans for the impending shutdown, arguing that the party has become beholden to its most radical members.
- Some note that no past government shutdown has ever worked and say there’s no reason to believe it will now.
- Others criticize McCarthy for adopting a doomed strategy of appeasing his far-right members.
In his Quick Update newsletter, Rep. Jeff Jackson (D-NC) discussed why some Republicans want to shut down the government.
“What the right-flank wants most right now is a shutdown. Why? Because a shutdown comes with a ton of media attention, and for many of them, media attention is the whole ballgame. The Speaker has tried multiple times to talk them out of it. Behind closed doors, he’s been very candid that he believes a shutdown could backfire and hurt their party in the next election. To no avail. Apparently they really want to touch the stove, so we’re all expecting it. But last week, it also became clear to the Speaker that indulging his right-flank in a shutdown wouldn’t be enough. They wanted something more: Impeachment.”
McCarthy is “trying to trade his right-flank a shutdown and an impeachment in exchange for being allowed to pass a budget. It’s unclear whether they’re going to accept his offer. My bet is they ask for even more,” Jackson said. Why wouldn’t McCarthy make a deal with Democrats to remove the leverage of his far-right members? Because “if he made that deal, it would be an extraordinarily unpopular thing for him to do within his party — and not just with his right-flank. His support among Republicans could plummet well beyond the capacity of the minority party to realistically make up the difference.”
In Bloomberg, Joshua Green said House Republicans are “determined to force” a shutdown, even though history shows they don’t work.
“As in the past, the logic of shutting down the federal government is clear, if not compelling: The Republican instigators believe that the public will rally behind them and force Democrats and moderate Republicans to slash spending,” Green wrote. “What’s also clear is the record of shutdowns in bringing about the outcome their proponents desire: It’s 0-for-10—and, if Republicans don’t settle on a funding bill by Sept. 30, will likely soon be 0-for-11.” Both parties have forced government shutdowns in the past decade, all of which failed to achieve their policy goals and saw public opinion turn against them.” To this, conservative Republicans say: ‘Hold my beer.’”
“What’s even more frustrating to Republicans hoping to avoid a government shutdown and its blowback is that this unwelcome fight is arriving at a particularly inopportune moment for the GOP. Democrats have just endured a long, difficult summer that’s seen Biden’s approval rating slide to dangerously low territory, as voters unhappy about inflation and the state of the economy have turned against him,” Green said. “A shutdown that advertises Republican chaos and dysfunction would throw Biden and Democrats a lifeline by reminding voters of what they disliked about the Trump era and the MAGA fire-breathers who prospered during his tenure. It would yank the spotlight away from the beleaguered president and probably give Biden a welcome boost.”
In The American Prospect, David Dayen wrote about “the absurdity of Washington brain.”
“McCarthy believes that his position is dependent on the Freedom Caucus not throwing him out of office like they did the last two Republican leaders. So the first thing he did when the House returned from summer break—only three weeks from the deadline—was to unilaterally initiate an impeachment investigation against Joe Biden. This was done entirely to cozy up to the obstinate hard right,” Dayen said. “Only in Washington would you respond to a set of demands with an unrelated demand and expect that to work: It’s like a manager responding to workers wanting to see the air-conditioning fixed at the office by bringing in a pinball machine. But some parasitic worm endemic to Capitol Hill gets into the brains of the leadership, seizes control of the relevant neurons, and commands the Speaker to try these absurd gambits.
“Think about how abstract we’ve now gotten. Republicans are arguing with each other over how much funding to cut in a one-month stopgap continuing resolution—not the budget itself—when even cutting by one dollar means all House Democrats, all Democrats who control the Senate, and the president will be opposed,” Dayen added. “Meanwhile, everyone and their brother knows the continuing resolution bill that will get the necessary votes: just a plain old clean continuing resolution. McCarthy doesn’t want to do it because of the potential for revolt from the hard-right faction. He knows—and has explicitly said—that Republicans will lose a government shutdown showdown. But for all his bravado, he’s just an incredibly weak leader. And so he’s playing out these Washington brain strategies that work nowhere on Earth other than Capitol Hill.”
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- I'm glad to see tension in Congress. It shouldn't be easy to spend trillions of dollars.
- The right flank of the House Freedom Caucus does not have a clear plan to me, and I think this could result in McCarthy working with Democrats.
- If the outcome here is more bipartisanship in the House, I'm good with that.
There are a few themes to the McCarthy-House Freedom Caucus tension that I've written about before and want to emphasize again.
First: It's good for there to be tension in Congress. I am pro-tension. Let them fight. Our country is messy and complicated and a lot of people have a lot of different ideas and I get very, very suspicious when trillion dollar spending bills are getting approved without much friction. The "infighting" on the right can easily be re-framed as disagreement, and the outcome very well may be a kind of consensus spending agreement that represents everyone from the far-right to the center. And that's a good thing.
Second: Similar to the first point, let's not view House members exercising power as a grave threat to democracy. As I said in June, Congressional leadership has been too powerful for too long. The debt ceiling stand-off was a bad and counter-productive way for these members to exercise their power, but forcing negotiations on legislation and appropriations bills is a good way to exercise their power. You don't have to support the House Freedom Caucus's goals to understand that it is good for members to push back against leadership and seek to represent their constituents.
Third: Voting on 12 appropriation bills is also how Congress is supposed to work — which they seem to have forgotten. According to Pew, "Congress has passed all its required appropriations measures on time only four times: fiscal 1977 (the first full fiscal year under the current system), 1989, 1995 and 1997. And even those last three times, Congress was late in passing the budget blueprint that, in theory at least, precedes the actual spending bills." Now they are starting to just settle on giant omnibus bills that have much less accountability, debate, and care. I applaud House Republicans for trying to force the issue. It'd be nice if they could, you know, actually do it.
All that being said, I think this rambunctious (and sometimes nutty) group of 5-10 members needs to tread very carefully. One obvious potential outcome of the impending shutdown might be that Speaker McCarthy just turns to moderate Republicans and Democrats to pass these appropriations bills with very little opposition. Politically, that move might be a death knell for his speakership, causing a snap vote to remove him. But at some point the government is going to shut down and the demands from a small fraction of Congress (that are very clearly not going to be met) are going to seem less and less important. So he'll be left with no other choice. Many in Congress are already saying this: If the House Freedom Caucus won’t budge, then any solution will involve Democrats. McCarthy isn’t going to jump straight to pulling that lever now, but after enough stalemates and posturing and shutdown time, he’ll have to.
And then what? The right flank loses its power and gets much, much less of what it wants in the actual appropriations bills. In that regard, it's totally unclear to me what their plan is — maybe because they don't really have one. Personally, I'd be thrilled to see this result in a bipartisan solution in the House.
How this negotiation plays out politically depends largely on how you view the mood of Americans. I'm deeply concerned about our spending and debt, so I'd be happy to see this result in some reforms and appropriations that bring down the deficit. But I'm also, as of now, still supportive of backing Ukraine in the war, so I don't want to see funding get haphazardly pulled. Some Americans are like me. Others are done with backing Ukraine and also worried about the spending, while some fully support funding Ukraine and are not particularly concerned about the debt.
My read on the polling and mood of the electorate is that the group of people who both want to pull funding for Ukraine and are passionately worried about our debt is small, representing probably less than a quarter of the country, and a government shutdown because of Republican infighting would be bad for Republicans politically. As commentators above pointed out, it's also historically unlikely to get them what they want. For those reasons, I think McCarthy and House Republicans are in a precarious spot.
What does look clear to me, though, is that a shutdown is coming. If the House can actually pass this CR, which looks like a coin flip, it is a guarantee that the Senate is going to gut it and send it back with all the things these House Republicans say they won't approve. With October 1 just 10 days away, I don't see any world in which we avert a shutdown — and that's when McCarthy is going to have to start making the really tough decisions.
New YouTube video.
On Friday, we shared a paywalled subscribers-only edition where I wrote about the character letters Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis wrote on behalf of their friend and convicted rapist Danny Masterson. The piece drew a huge response, and at the urging of my team I decided to turn it into a YouTube video. It already has over 1,000 views. If you missed the piece, are not yet ready to subscribe, or for whatever reason would prefer to watch than read it, you can find that video here:
Your questions, unanswered.
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Under the radar.
The child care industry is on the cusp of a crisis. In 9 days, the U.S. will “fall off a child care cliff,” Axios's Emily Peck reports. That's the day that pandemic-era funding many child care centers now rely on will run out. The funding amounted to a $24 billion temporary solution for an industry that has long struggled to make ends meet. As many as 70,000 centers serving over 3 million children could close when that funding runs out, according to one estimate from the Century Foundation. The cliff is approaching just as workforce participation among women and mothers hits new all-time highs, and employment gaps between men and women hit new all-time lows. Child care providers are expected to have to close (forcing many parents home) or raise prices to levels that are unaffordable for many families. Axios has the story.
I went on the Lost Debate podcast to chat with New York Post columnist Rikki Schlott about climate protesting, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Mitt Romney's retirement. It was a great chat you can listen to on Spotify here or Apple podcasts here.
- $2 trillion. The average annual deficit the Congressional Budget Office expects to be added to the debt for the next decade.
- 49%. The percentage of Americans who think the government should have a bigger role, providing more services.
- 48%. The percentage of Americans who think the government should have a smaller role, providing fewer services.
- 43%. The percentage of Americans who say we should increase the size of the U.S. military.
- 17%. The percentage of Americans who say we should reduce the size of the U.S. military.
- 38%. The percentage of Americans who say the size of the U.S. military should stay the same.
- 55%. The percentage of Americans who said Congress should not authorize additional funding for Ukraine, according to an August CNN poll.
- One year ago today we asked if the pandemic was over.
- The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was our video about Ashton Kutcher.
- Mixed feelings: 531 Tangle readers, a very low number, responded to our poll asking about the Biden administration's prisoner swap, with 30% saying they have mixed thoughts. 24% mostly approve of the swap, 20% mostly disapprove, 19% completely disapprove, and 5% completely approve. "Glad we got hostages back. Disappointed with the cost," one respondent said.
- Nothing to do with politics: Possibly the world's oldest wooden structure.
- Take the poll. Who do you think would deserve the most blame for a government shutdown? Let us know!
Have a nice day.
An 18-year-old in Berlin, Germany, found himself pinned beneath a tire of a bus's rear axle last Monday after attempting to catch the departing bus at a local stop. However, thanks to the quick response of the bus driver and the combined efforts of about 40 people, the young man escaped the life-threatening situation with only minor injuries. Noticing what happened, passengers and bystanders acted quickly and worked together to elevate the right side of the bus enough to free the young man from beneath it, according to authorities. Frank Kurze, one of the volunteers who participated in the rescue, recalled the scene, stating, "I saw the men trying to lift the bus, and it was clear to me that I also had to help lift the bus and attempt to extricate the young man from underneath." Sunny Skyz has the story.
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