GOP fears boomerang as threat of government shutdown grows
The prospect of a government shutdown grew on Wednesday as a small group of conservative Republicans demanded a vote to defund President Biden’s vaccine mandate in exchange for letting a stopgap funding measure pass by Friday’s deadline.
Republicans fear that Senate conservatives led by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) will hold up the government funding deal for days in a maneuver that could boomerang on their party — just as a similar strategy to use a government funding measure as leverage to stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act blew up in their faces eight years ago.
Some Republican senators are privately arguing that forcing a government shutdown would give Democrats a political lifeline at a time when Biden’s approval rating is hovering just above 40 percent.
The old adage in politics is that if your opponent is shooting himself in the foot, get out of the way. And many Republicans don’t want to shift attention away from rising inflation and Biden’s controversial climate and social spending agenda and onto a government shutdown that would likely be blamed on the GOP.
Yet Lee and others are holding out, leaving the possibility that there could be a shutdown the GOP might pay for.
“There was not full agreement, that’s for sure,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (Mo.) said after Republican senators debated at lunch Wednesday whether to use a potential shutdown as leverage.
“I think shutdowns almost never work out very well,” he added.
A shutdown could happen if Lee, Marshall and other like-minded GOP senators object to requests to speed up floor procedure to allow the Senate to pass any government funding bill that comes over from the House. Congress must act by the stroke of midnight Friday to avoid a shutdown.
Conservatives could delay final passage of a funding measure for up to nine days, since Senate rules give any individual senator an array of tools to slow down a bill.
Blunt said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave conservatives a chance to force a shutdown by waiting until right before the Dec. 3 deadline to move legislation. The bill was delayed in part because of negotiations with Republicans over how long the stopgap measure should last and whether it would keep longstanding policy riders in place.
“Any time you drag this down to where you’re in the last 48 hours or so, it gives every member a lot of ability to object to expediting things,” Blunt said.
Some GOP senators point out the Senate will vote next week on a resolution to nullify Biden’s executive order on vaccines under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). They say it would be better to pick that fight.
“My point is we’re going to get the vote on CRA next week anyway with none of the political collateral damage,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) after Wednesday’s lunch. “Almost everybody there agrees with me.”
But Marshall argued to colleagues Wednesday that they need to show to voters at home that they’re pulling out all the stops to defeat Biden’s vaccine mandate. He said Schumer needs to agree to allow consideration of an amendment with a 50-vote threshold to prohibit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from using taxpayer money to implement the vaccine mandate.
“I think it would have to be 50,” Marshall said of the vote threshold he wants to amend the funding measure. “Is Sen. Schumer willing to shut down the economy over this?”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is allied with Lee and Marshall, said he would allow the government funding measure to advance if it can be amended with 51 votes. “I think that would be a very good resolution,” he said.
Schumer, however, warned of “chaos” if conservatives hold the government funding bill hostage.
“Our Republican colleagues … can either work with us to move the process quickly through the chamber or they can engage in obstructive tactics that will make a government shutdown almost a certainty,” he warned.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday tried to take the threat of a shutdown off the table.
“We won’t shut down,” he told reporters. “I think we’ll get there and certainly nobody should be concerned about a government shutdown.”
Senators said McConnell listened to the debate at the Republican lunch but didn’t weigh in himself.
“He ate his chicken,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said of McConnell’s reaction.
It could take two days to simply take a House-passed stopgap funding bill and place it on the Senate calendar. A third day may be needed to file a cloture motion to end a filibuster on a motion to proceed to the bill.
Conservatives could then demand a full two days to vote to end debate on the motion to proceed and for another 30 hours to elapse before voting on the motion to proceed.
A final vote on the continuing resolution could be further delayed by requiring another day to elapse before allowing a vote on a motion to end a filibuster of the funding measure.
Conservatives could also require 30 hours of post-cloture debate time before a vote on a final passage.
Across the Capitol, House Democrats are voicing their frustrations with the Senate logjam but also appear willing to wait to see how things play out before moving their own continuing resolution.
“The goal is we have to get it past the House and Senate. So we’re trying to work out a deal” that can pass through both, said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Rules Committee.
“The fuse is lit, and it has to be extinguished by Friday night, so there’s that sense of urgency,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “But the point that I think is well worth noting here is: The House has done its work, so we’re just awaiting action in the Senate.”
Both chairmen predicted there would be no shutdown Friday night.
“I’d like to think Republicans would think it’s a bad idea to shut the government down, so I think at the end of the day we’ll get a deal,” said McGovern.