Hear those drumbeats? They’re predictions of a January government shutdown

They somehow cobbled together two consecutive continuing resolutions. Now members of Congress aren’t sure what will happen when the current one expires. At least one Democrat in leadership predicts a shutdown next month. For more,  the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin Nothing seems to be able to escape the drumbeat of shutdown, does it?

Mitchell Miller No, it doesn’t. You would think by the end of this year we wouldn’t necessarily have to be talking about a shutdown since they already have a continuing resolution in place. But as you pointed out, we have these deadlines coming up in January. And I talked at length with former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who’s been through many of these shutdown showdowns over the years. And he is very concerned about the possibility of a shutdown in January.

Sten Hoyer I think there’s more than a potential. I think it may be more likely than less likely that we would shut down the government because, first of all, the speaker, this brand new speaker has said he’s not going to do any more continuing resolutions that sadly, they have set up a process which makes it very, very difficult to reach consensus in such a short time.

Mitchell Miller And Hoyer is pointing out that the House is not scheduled to return until Jan. 9. The first of two deadlines for funds to run out is the 19. And he points out that with the travel and everything else, that only leaves them about six legislative days to get to an agreement. And if a short-term spending bill is off the table, that could present real problems. Keep in mind that the House hasn’t been able to agree on most of the appropriation bills for nearly a year, much less a few days. Then there’s also a second deadline from that laddered CR, as you talked about, that was previously approved, and that’s on Feb. 2. So big challenges ahead, especially for the new House speaker, Mike Johnson (R-La.), who was originally given some leeway after succeeding former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). But the House Freedom Caucus and the hard liners aren’t likely to give him much flexibility, I don’t think, especially since their majority has shrunk with the departure of McCarthy and the expulsion of George Santos (R-N.Y.). Now, you could get down to two or maybe three votes that the Republicans could lose depending on who’s absent. So it’s going to be an even thinner margin in 2024, much less this year.

Tom Temin But in this case, then the shutdown would be more of the result of stasis and schedule than for actually confronting the disagreements.

Mitchell Miller Right, exactly. And really, many people point out, and this is Democrats as well as Republicans point out, there really hasn’t been any major change in the makeup or the way that House Republicans are looking at these issues. So, yes, there was a little bit of a honeymoon period here for Speaker Mike Johnson, but all of these issues still are going to come back to roost in January. And I just don’t see, and Steny Hoyer obviously doesn’t see, and many others don’t see how they are going to resolve these issues in just a matter of days.

Tom Temin Whatever happened to that whole gambit of trying to get the regular appropriations legislation pieces done? I think that dates back to the McCarthy speaker days.

Mitchell Miller Right. That really just totally fell apart. I mean, it was amazing. We heard a drumbeat day after day where House Republicans say we have to get these appropriations bills passed. We want to get all 12 of them passed before the end of the year. Yes. Did they pass some of them? They did. But they basically went for the low hanging fruit, the easier ones to pass. And then when it became clear that they couldn’t even get the votes to pass the rule to get to the legislative session on the floor, they just kind of put them all on the shelf. And so it was a really odd kind of legislative twilight zone here over the last few weeks where they’re moving toward the end of the year, we’re usually used to this big push and finally getting into an omnibus, which they avoided this year. But really, the last couple of weeks have been kind of anti-climatic other than passing the National Defense Authorization Act, there wasn’t really a lot of major legislative action.

Tom Temin And within this Twilight zone, you also have lots of zombies walking around. I mean, they did give the heave ho to George Santos, but lots of members have already announced their departure from Congress and there’s still another year of legislation before the election.

Mitchell Miller Now, of course, there’s always ebb and flow with members of Congress leaving. But really, over the last several weeks, we’ve had a lot of people heading out the doors. More than 30 lawmakers from the House have either said they’re retiring or they’re going to another job or they’re trying to run for another public office. Maybe it’s the U.S. Senate or somewhere else. And I asked Steny Hoyer about that. And he said, well, yes, you do get a lot of people leaving. Obviously, he’s somebody who’s been here a long time. But there’s just this frustration that absolutely nothing can get done. And even among the renegade conservative Republicans in the House, if you ask them, do you think this was a productive legislative session, usually there’s a spin on it, but several of them said no, absolutely not. They’re frustrated. They didn’t think that they got anything done. So then you also add these people that are more moderate, that have been here a long time, that are used to, at least over some point of time, getting into these coalitions where they could actually compromise on legislation. That’s really not happening very much anymore. So all of this is really adding up to frustration and causing many of these lawmakers to leave.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller. He is WTOP is Capitol Hill correspondent. And then you’ve got I guess to some it’s a sideshow. To some it’s an important matter. And that is the increase in intensity of looking at President Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, in this whole inquiry. And now, of course, you say, as you point out, the House is leaving for weeks now. So will that have any gravitational pull, I guess, when they do return?

Mitchell Miller I think it’ll have a huge gravitational pull because a lot of Democrats are totally frustrated by the fact that this impeachment inquiry, they just voted on it last week to formally move it ahead. And, Democrats have been saying this for a long time. The White House has been saying that there really is nothing specifically to tie President Biden to his son. Now, does his son have a lot of legal problems? Absolutely. Has he admitted to a ton of problems from everything for paying for escort services to strippers? A lot of terrible things. And Democrats don’t want to talk about that. But they acknowledge, and Hunter Biden himself has acknowledged these problems. But the fact that there is just basically a search for more smoke and potentially fire with this impeachment inquiry is going to really, I think, roil things from the just basic legislative standpoint of trying to get agreement on some of the things that we just talked about basically getting the government to keep running, because I think it’s going to cause some Democrats to dig in and they’re not going to be perhaps as willing to go across the aisle as we’ve seen in the past year, where it literally did take Democrats to join Republicans to get some of the legislation passed. So this is definitely going to be a big problem, both politically, obviously, for President Biden heading into an election year. But I think it’s also going to throw sand into the gears of the legislative process.

Tom Temin Right. And they also have to deal with foreign policy questions, aid to Israel and to Ukraine and those that’s all up in limbo now too then.

Mitchell Miller Right. And this is an issue that immigration is something that they’ve been trying to figure out some kind of solution to these asylum issues and various issues related to immigration for literally 15 years. And now you see them trying to do this in a matter of days. Once again, does that sound familiar? Now, there has been pretty good progress on some of these discrete issues. Republicans basically want to change the expulsion authority. They want to bring back a form of what’s known as Title 42, basically to figure out a way to effectively shut down the border for a while. And there’s a disagreement over what the level should be of how many people are coming in. But it’s a huge problem. And what’s interesting is the majority of Republicans, particularly in the Senate, actually strongly support Ukraine aid as well as Israel aid. But because of this issue related to the border and the fact that Republicans feel this is the one time that they can get some leverage, it just has caused everything to grind to a not to a total halt. But it is interesting that the Senate is back in session this week, but there’s a lot of skepticism about whether or not any of this aid can actually get passed before the end of the year.

Tom Temin And they did get that as both houses got the National Defense Authorization Act out of the way so that something they can feather their cap with. And then there’s a couple of details like the new Social Security administrator. That agency hasn’t had a confirmed administrator and very noticeably so for a long time.

Mitchell Miller Right. So we’ll get a vote on former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D-Md.), who looks like he is going to get confirmed. And that will be another one of the things that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will do effectively to keep the Senate in session. They will take up some nominations. They still have some loose ends here in there that are more kind of on the administrative side. So that will keep the Senate in session so that these negotiators on the Republican and Democratic side and now the White House is becoming more involved in these border issues. They want to just at least grind away and they’re hoping that they can reach some type of framework agreement. But as you well know, even if you get that agreement, then you have to put it into legislative text. You have to set up the cloture votes and all of that. And that takes time. And to be honest, a lot of Republicans in the House, and a lot of Democrats as well actually, have just said the House is not coming back, that they are not coming back until January. So even if there were some kind of political miracle and the Senate got to a point where there could be a vote on this, it’s again, really doubtful that anything could happen on it before the end of the year. So I think that issue is going to be pushed into the following year.

Tom Temin So in the meantime, though, don’t turn off the burner under the Navy bean soup in the Dirksen cafeteria.

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