Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman has never experienced a situation like the one this week: “Not in real life – only in movies. It’s unbelievable.”
It’s a common saying that Congress is plagued by dysfunction. However, as Sunday’s possible shutdown approaches, both the House and Senate are experiencing a dramatic display of problems.
The Republican-led House has not succeeded in approving a budget. Speaker Kevin McCarthy is constantly under pressure from the conservative side and has recently initiated an impeachment investigation, which has been criticized by some of its own members for a poorly executed first hearing.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is facing multiple challenges, not just the obstruction of military promotions. These include the passing of a spending bill while dealing with the loss of one member, Dianne Feinstein, and the legal charges against another, Bob Menendez. On top of that, two more Democrats are unable to participate due to Covid. Meanwhile, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is threatening to utilize parliamentary tactics to cause a brief government shutdown once again.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) expressed concern over the loss of Senator Feinstein and the potential shutdown, stating that life is valuable and a shutdown on top of that would be terrible. He also questioned how he would be able to justify to people not being able to do their job.
As the potential government shutdown looms over Capitol Hill, it may just be a preview of the challenges legislators will face over the next 13 months. With a lot still on their plate, the House is at a standstill as McCarthy faces a significant risk to his position as leader.
Due to the lack of agreement among lawmakers, Congress is facing difficulty in accomplishing much before the 2024 elections. This includes finding a way to end the shutdown, which has caused tension similar to the one between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. Those who were around during that time are drawing parallels to the current situation.
Former Speaker Gingrich admitted to POLITICO that the current small GOP majority is more challenging than when he had control decades ago. He stated that back then, he could tolerate having “five or six idiots.”
Representative John James, a current member of the Republican House from Michigan, referred to the hardliners in his party as the “Clown caucus.”
Representative Darrell Issa, a member of the Republican party from California, has experienced two government funding lapses during his party’s control since the Clinton administration. He expressed the feeling of existential dread surrounding shutdowns, stating that they often start with people believing it is a positive action, but ultimately end with the realization that it was not.
The current issue is not solely related to government funding. Congress will soon neglect its responsibility to address expiring programs, such as the authorization of federal aviation safety enforcement (which has not been renewed since 2011) and flood insurance that benefits millions of individuals.
The most difficult aspect of a shutdown is the potential for active-duty service members to miss their checks in mid-October, which could make this shutdown the first in recent history to impact military pay for all. While Congress has managed to avoid this in previous shutdowns, it has not yet done so this time.
“As soon as that mother out there with her two kids can’t pay the rent, and her husband is in some foreign country fighting for us, that’s when the heat starts to build,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), one of many in his party who’s resigned to a shutdown.
During an argument on the Senate floor, Senator Ted Cruz from Texas ridiculed Senator Patty Murray from Washington for suggesting that instead of passing a bill to pay the military, all federal workers should be paid with a temporary solution. This was one of many heated exchanges that took place on the floor last week, often a sign of an impending government shutdown.
The back-and-forth with Murray “brought me back to Saturday morning cartoons and watching Peanuts with the teacher going ‘wha, wha, wha.’ Because they were words, but they didn’t mean anything,” Cruz fumed afterward.
The Senate’s activity is becoming increasingly chaotic. Republicans are struggling to reach a compromise on a border enforcement amendment in order to secure government funding, but so far have been unsuccessful. Two Republican senators, Paul and John Kennedy of Louisiana, clashed over a flood insurance policy. Senator Murray intervened to prevent Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin from passing a two-week stopgap measure because it did not include extensions for important programs and did not allow enough time for Congress to address its current issues.
Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), who always maintains a positive attitude, stated that there is a multitude of things happening. It is always eventful and never boring.
There is currently no indication of a resolution between the House and Senate regarding government funding, even for a short period of time. In the midst of this, Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) turned to a higher authority, stating, “As a pastor, I am simply hoping and praying that we will make the right decision.”
Warnock stated that politics often feels scripted and artificial, leading to a loss of human connection.
A different clergyman from the other side of the Capitol, Representative Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), suggested a more lighthearted solution: “I am attempting to fundraise in order to bring in the Temptations. They have a song titled ‘Ball of Confusion’ – let’s see if we can obtain permission for them to perform on the floor immediately after the national anthem.”
However, the atmosphere in the House is especially dismal for Republicans. They are witnessing numerous bills, which were carefully crafted to garner bipartisan support, being rejected by their colleagues. This is happening at a time when their leader is facing significant challenges, similar to those he faced in January. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) even mentioned potential replacements for the speaker’s position on the House floor, just a few feet away from McCarthy.
“Schweikert stated that now you have a motivation, for the sake of your political career, to destroy everything.”
House Republicans are seeking a solution to end the current shutdown, but they are aware that they will need to seek assistance from Democrats. This may prove to be a difficult task, considering their previous promises to uncover damaging information about President Joe Biden. However, Democrats do not seem intimidated by the Republican Party’s recent strides towards impeaching Biden.
On Friday, while in the Capitol, Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, had an uncomfortable elevator ride with six Democrats. During this time, he received a surprising and sarcastic show of support following a tense conversation with a reporter about the GOP’s investigation into Hunter Biden.
After Smith left the elevator, Representative Joe Neguse (of Colorado) joked to his fellow colleagues, “That guy had a tough week. I feel sorry for him.” Some of the Democrats who were riding with him burst out laughing.
This report was contributed to by Caitlin Emma.