September is the last month before the end of the federal government’s fiscal year. The Senate came back into session on September 5th and the House returns on September 12th. Government funding for the next fiscal year must occur by October 1, 2023.
While the Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker have agreed on a short term continuing resolution to meet funding obligations during the debt ceiling negotiations in May, the House Freedom Caucus has threatened to pursue the shutdown unless their demands are met.
Currently, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $772.5 billion for non-defense discretionary spending and $858 billion for defense funding with broad bipartisan support. The House has approved bills only along partisan lines. The House bills make deep cuts in non-defense appropriations, particularly with programs related to climate change, the IRS, the Justice Department and the Pentagon. The bills also contain “poison pill” legislative riders pushing policies against LGBTQ programs, racial equity and access to reproductive health care.
Should a stalemate occur, Congress has approved spending bills for Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor and Veterans Affairs. Congress also passed a funding bill exempting itself and its staff from being impacted by a shutdown. If the dozen other annual government funding bills don’t become law before January 1, 2024 then a one percent across the board spending cut will occur across all programs from defense to discretionary spending.
Engineered shutdowns over partisan politics first occurred in 1996 when House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga) forced a shutdown that lasted 21 days. That turned into a political victory for President Bill Clinton who blamed the lack of access to necessary government services on Republicans. Then in the 2013 it became a political fixture when Republicans used it to defund the Affordable Care Act. The Democrats used the shutdown tactic to force passage of DACA in 2018. Former President used it to demand $5.7 billion for a border wall in 2019.
Politicians continue to use or threaten to use government shutdowns as a negotiating tactic. Two Democratic Congressional members from Virginia (Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Don Beyer) have introduced the “End Shutdowns Act” which would create a mechanism that if full year appropriations bills are not enacted by the start of a new fiscal year on October 1, federal agencies would be funded automatically as if Congress had passed a continuing resolution. The automatic funding would match the prior year’s funding levels.
Sen. Kaine stated about this bill, “Government shutdowns have disastrous consequences for federal employees and contractors and slow down critical government services that millions of Americans rely on like getting replacement Social Security cards and food inspections. It also does lasting damage to the economy and inflicts uncertainty on millions of civil servants.”