You heard right: The next potential government shutdown is coming into view

With Republicans in charge of the house and Democrats the Senate, you can bet on sharp disagreements over the budget. In fact, it’s not too early to worry about an impasse leading to a government shutdown. To get a look into this possibility, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Mitchell Miller, WTOP’s Capitol Hill Correspondent.

Interview transcript:

Mitchell Miller
It really is, Tom. It’s incredible that we’re here in January and already talking...

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With Republicans in charge of the house and Democrats the Senate, you can bet on sharp disagreements over the budget. In fact, it’s not too early to worry about an impasse leading to a government shutdown. To get a look into this possibility, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with Mitchell Miller, WTOP’s Capitol Hill Correspondent.

Interview transcript:

Mitchell Miller
It really is, Tom. It’s incredible that we’re here in January and already talking about it. And it’s very serious discussions taking place right now. And that is all of course, because of the big change in the House. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) giving away a lot to hard right conservatives, fiscal conservatives in exchange for getting the gavel. It’s a combination of promises, pledges and rule changes. So House Republicans are talking about holding the budget to fiscal 2022 limits before that big $1.7 trillion omnibus bill was passed last month, that could mean well over $100 billion in spending cuts. And that right there, is one of the reasons why there is such serious discussion about the possibility of a government shutdown. There’s also concern about the defense budget, some Republicans as well as Democrats worried that this could lead to defense cuts as well.

And then there’s another interesting thing that’s going to be taking place because of the rules changes. Republicans want to approve each of the 12 spending bills in the House separately, and open them up to amendments. Now that sounds fairly benign, and it used to be done a long time ago. But as you know, it has not been done recently. So that could potentially get very messy with people lobbing up amendments and trying to get each of these bills through the committee’s members of the House Freedom Caucus and others want to get away from those big omnibus bills that no one can read before there’s a vote on them with 4000 plus pages. But also on the House Republican wish list is that the Senate would need to get all of its appropriations in order before a vote later this year. And of course, we know that never happens, at least in recent history. The Senate didn’t even get to its appropriations until well into 2022. It just never happened. So that’s why there’s a lot of nervousness right now about a shutdown.

Tom Temin
And just to be fair or balanced here, having each chamber of Congress look at 12 appropriations bills on time separately, that used to be called regular order. What they were supposed to do.

Mitchell Miller
Exactly that’s really what the way it is supposed to be done, regular order. There are legitimate concerns among the conservatives in the House about how all of this has transpired over recent years. They argue that why would you have basically the four most powerful people in the House and Senate, the leadership giving ultimate agreement on these big omnibus bills, they say that all of this process really sidelines what a legislator is supposed to do, which is to come to Washington help fund the government make decisions on various policies and that it was supposed to go through regular order. So yeah, you’re absolutely right. There’s a legitimate standing for what a lot of these reforms are going through.

Tom Temin
And I guess we won’t see the return of the line item veto that was so popular up through Bill Clinton’s presidency, and even he got overturned on most of those. But there is something older called the Holman rule that’s resurrected now, I thought that was the name of the lounge at the Press Club.

Mitchell Miller
The Holman rule is back goes way back to the 19th century. But most recently, it was brought back in 2017 by Republicans, they tried to use it. Basically, it allows lawmakers to specifically target federal agencies and potentially even federal workers could get in the political bullseye. That was part of this rules package that House Republicans approved last week. Now, it could be largely symbolic, but it does send some shivers around federal agencies and among federal employees, just the symbolic nature of the fact that anybody potentially could be targeted if a lawmaker or a bunch of lawmakers don’t like what’s going on in a particular agency or in a particular hallway, for that matter. Now, Democrats throughout the Washington area, who, as you well know, are big defenders of federal workers, they have really pushed back hard on this. Again, I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere, because of course, the Democratic controlled Senate could block a Republicans from using this provision. But it is another sign that House Republicans are pushing hard to try to go after what they say are a lot of unelected bureaucrats and they want to cut back.

Tom Temin
We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller WTOPs Capitol Hill correspondent. And let me ask you about this select subcommittee being formed on the weaponization of the federal government their word, are they talking about things like which some Republicans did not like when Attorney General Merrick Garland felt that people yelling at school board members should be looked at as terrorists, that kind of thing?

Mitchell Miller
Right, exactly. And so it’s really a huge very, very broad mission that Democrats are highly critical of, they say basically, it could go after anything but it can go after the Justice Department if they feel that there’s things that are not going correctly in the way, for example, these classified documents problems are arising and how they’re being investigated. They could go investigate the investigators, if you will, they could go look at the FBI, is the FBI properly going after things in the way that Republicans think they should? Now, Jim Jordan, the Ohio Congressman, he will likely lead this committee, Select Subcommittee as well as the Judiciary Committee. He has made no secret of the fact that he thinks that the FBI and some other federal agencies, particularly in law enforcement, have overreached in a lot of cases. He says that they’ve had whistleblowers from the FBI come to him and other lawmakers saying that there’s some politicization of these agencies. So it’s going to be interesting to see how far reaching it goes, Democrats have this picture of an octopus just reaching into every single thing that’s upsetting Republicans, basically. But, there are areas of legitimate oversight, but we’ll have to see how far it actually goes.

Tom Temin
And some of those suction cups on the octopus belong to the IRS, there’s going to be reopening of debate on spending, at least the extra spending that was part of non-appropriations bill, the infrastructure bill for the IRS getting that extra $80 billion.

Mitchell Miller
Right. So that was a big campaign promise from Republicans during the midterms, they said they’re going to cut these 87,000 IRS agents. Of course, if you fact check it, it’s not all agents, there are not 87,000 agents that are going to be hired. This would include people in IT, this would include people that are just processing forms. But nonetheless, it’s another big symbolic vote that the House Republicans have taken to put the IRS on notice that, we’re not just going to throw a bunch of money at the agency, even though a lot of people, including some moderate Republicans believe that the IRS really needs more money to get up to date. There has been some progress within the IRS, the National Taxpayer Advocate recently stating that there is probably going to be a much better year for IRS staffers as well, of course, as taxpayers in terms of getting help and getting their files through. There was a backlog that was close to, it was approaching 5 million individual returns, they eventually had been whittling it down over and over month by month. And by the end of December, the backlog was down to just about 400,000 individual returns. So Democrats and others who support the IRS in terms of their mission, say, they’ve got to have the funding and the resources and the modern equipment to do the job to get these tax forms through.

Tom Temin
And we’ll be speaking on this show with Aaron Collins, the Taxpayer Advocate later this week, and maybe they could just hire 87,000 people to answer the phones.

Mitchell Miller
For anybody who’s waited on the other end of that phone tree, wow, that is brutal.

Tom Temin
And close to the hearts and minds and maybe other body parts of the federal workforce itself, is the newly named House Oversight and Accountability Committee with its Show Up. As in show up to the federal office where we want you to work.

Mitchell Miller
Yep. Kentucky Congressman James Comer, who is heading this committee. They want to basically hold everybody to account. And so this is part of what they want to do is, make sure that federal agencies are requiring people to return to their offices, to their federal offices at the pre-pandemic levels. Again, this is another signaled piece of legislation that probably is going to get bottled up and not go anywhere. But it is an indication that Republicans, in general really are making a push to get people back in these federal offices. A lot of lawmakers are, there is some bipartisan support for that as well. But it’s primarily Republicans and they are getting some pushback from Democrats who say, well telework in a lot of cases really, really works. And we’ve been pushing for years to get more federal workers to telework. So they don’t want this kind of progress to be pushed back.

Tom Temin
And finally, there are some changes on the Capitol operations itself, particularly the end of proxy voting, which kind of gets to the Show Up bill.

Mitchell Miller
Right. Exactly. Republicans have made it very clear that they want lawmakers in the chamber voting on these bills. They’ve complained about the fact that there were all these Zoom meetings for hearings that people didn’t have to actually show up. And it was for both sides, Democrats and Republicans were both using proxy voting a lot. And it was supposed to be, if you were really in dire straits and couldn’t get here because of the pandemic. Obviously, it got stretched to a lot of other reasons beyond that. And one interesting side effect of that I noticed this past week, was with all the people here in the chamber, the votes went much quicker. And they were very efficiently run, I have to say by the Republicans that gaveled in they said it was going to be a 15 minute vote. A lot of the times when they say it’s going to be a 15 minute vote, you really don’t know how long it’s going to be and during the pandemic some of the votes, each of the votes would take close to an hour whereas now all of these votes are actually taking 15 minutes. Also related to the chamber. Republicans want to get more visitors to be able to come into the gallery there’s been limits on that. So they’re working that out. And then another change that you just noticed when you’re walking through the Capitol is particularly on the second floor and the first floor where lawmakers would come through to get to the chamber. There are no longer the magnetometers or metal detectors that people would have to go through after Jan. 6. So a lot of changes within the Capitol happening just at the very start of the year right now.

Tom Temin
Well, I like the idea of that fast voting. I suppose now that if you’re sitting in the Senate barber shop or the House gift shop, and that light goes on over the clock, you better get going over there and actually vote.

Mitchell Miller
You better start moving exactly. So it does seem to have an efficient effect.

 

 

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