House conservatives’ threats of a government shutdown are getting a chilly reception from Senate Republicans as they try to temper expectations for what GOP priorities they can achieve amid a looming deadline.
The House has just 11 legislative days to pass a stopgap measure to prevent a shutdown, but some hardline conservatives have been embracing the prospect as they look to dial up pressure in spending talks — prompting pushback from Republicans in the upper chamber.
“I think it’s better to figure this out before the end of the fiscal year and rather than engage in that sort of self destructive behavior,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said this week, telling reporters “nobody wants to shut down.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) questioned the strategy on Wednesday, saying: “The question should be what comes after you shut down the government?”
“And the answer has always been ‘Well, we’ll reopen it again,’” Romney told The Hill. “And of course, we reopen it at great expense, great inconvenience for the American people, and have accomplished nothing other than making a big noise.”
The last government shutdown happened roughly four years ago amid a nasty fight between the Trump administration and a Democratic-led House over funding for the then-president’s proposed border wall.
The month-long funding lapse went down as the longest in modern history, impacting hundreds of thousands of federal workers.
Senate Republicans have downplayed the chances of a repeat when funding is scheduled to run out on Sept. 30.
And Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters last month that “I don’t think anybody wants a government shutdown.”
But some in the Senate are worried about where spending talks could lead in the coming weeks as a handful of hardline conservatives in the House are using the prospect of a shutdown as a bargaining chip for policy changes in areas like border security and the Department of Justice.
“Eighty-five percent or so of the government continues to operate, and most Americans won’t even miss it,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) told The Hill last month.
“And if that’s the leverage that we need to utilize to force the Democrats to accept spending cuts and an end to the harmful policies that are, again, crushing the American people — I mean, then we need to do that,” he added.
Some Republicans in the Senate beg to differ, however.
“The last time we had a significant shutdown, we couldn’t get the crab fishermen out into the waters because their permits needed to be issued by a federal agency,” Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) told reporters on Thursday.
“Their season didn’t start until Oct. 1, but what happened Sept. 30? Things shut down,” she said. “You didn’t have a crab fisherman that was able to get out in the water. It’s real life.”
Lawmakers have little more than three weeks before funding is set to lapse again. But both chambers have a ways ahead of them before they can strike a larger deal on how the government should be funded in fiscal year 2024.
In the Senate, negotiators passed all 12 annual funding bills out of committee before leaving for the August recess, and are set to vote on their first batch of spending legislation next week. That includes dollars for Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA), Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Food and Drug Administration.
Members are hoping to see full floor votes on all 12 bills, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in committee. But there is uncertainty around timing for floor consideration for tougher areas of proposed funding.
Asked whether she expects to see a vote on her subcommittee’s bill, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), top Republican on the subpanel that oversees funding for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, said it’s possible.
“I don’t know. I would like that,” she said, but she noted the bill, which touches on thorny areas like abortion, is “always one of the more difficult ones.”
“So, we’ll see what happens in the next two weeks with the first three, and then I think we can make a judgment,” she said.
House GOP negotiators have passed 10 of their 12 annual funding bills out of committee so far, while the full chamber approved its first appropriations bill, allocating funding for military construction and the VA, along party lines. However, Republicans scrapped plans to pass their agricultural funding bill shortly before leaving town for summer recess amid intraparty disagreements.
None of the spending legislation crafted in the GOP-led House is expected to get any Democratic support. House Republicans marked up their appropriations bills at lower spending levels than those agreed to by President Biden and McCarthy earlier this year.
“Without stating an opinion about that, that’s not going to be replicated in the Senate,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last month, while reiterating support for the budget caps deal brokered between the president and McCarthy.
But the House GOP’s go-it-alone strategy also tightens the margins leadership has to navigate in the lower chamber, where it takes only a handful of Republicans to tank partisan bills with the party’s slim majority.
As the clock runs, leaders on both sides signal a short-term funding patch, also known as a continuing resolution (CR), is likely in lieu of a larger spending deal.
The House Freedom Caucus has already threatened to oppose any stopgap bill that doesn’t pursue changes to border policy, what they describe as the “weaponization of the Justice Department,” and “woke policies in the Pentagon.”
While many Senate Republicans have supported the bipartisan government funding bills crafted in committee, those issues have also found support in the Senate GOP, as some also seek to pin blame on Democrats for a potential shutdown.
“I think Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden want to force a shutdown. I think that’s the mistake if they did it,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday.
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) also commended House conservatives for “looking for the best option to put the best package forward for America.”
“But we still got to work with the other side, unfortunately, this time. So, the worst thing we do is go into shutdown,” Mullin said. “So, we’re going to do everything we can to avoid it.”
Mychael Schnell and Emily Brooks contributed.