The House of Representatives has rejected a Republican-authored attempt at a short-term spending bill that would have kept the federal government from shutting down, making it much more likely that federal employees will be furloughed or forced to work without pay and many government programmes will be shuttered when the fiscal year ends at midnight on 30 September.
The bill would have provided a 31-day extension to government funding while enacting massive cuts in domestic programmes and new immigration restrictions that were opposed by Democrats.
Democratic Rep Maxwell Frost (D-FL) said Republicans have failed to fix the internal problems that caused a fight to name a speaker at the beginning of the year.
“I got sworn in 2am on a Saturday night because they couldn't get their s*** together,” he told The Independent. “They still don't have their s*** together.”
While it earned support from most of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s GOP conference, enough members from the rightward-most flank of the party defected and joined with Democrats to doom the measure by a margin of 198-232.
The failure to pass what was meant to be a party-line piece of legislation, albeit one with zero chance of gaining the approval of the Democratic-controlled Senate, is a major setback to Mr McCarthy’s efforts to avoid blame for letting the federal government run out of money Saturday night.
Rep Tim Burchett (R-TN), one of the Republicans who opposed the legislation, lamented the lack of cooperation from leadership.
“I wish some of the leadership would have met with 15 of us in the beginning,” he told The Independent.
The California Republican has thus far refused to allow the chamber to vote on a compromise measure that would keep the government open until mid-November and allow lawmakers more time to work on spending bills for Fiscal Year 2024 because such a bill, known as a continuing resolution, would require votes from the chamber’s Democrats to pass.
A small group of extremist Republicans has vowed to oust Mr McCarthy if he allows a short-term spending bill to become law, particularly if he allows one that would gain bipartisan support to reach the House floor.
The House speaker had expressed confidence that Republicans would avert a shutdown as he walked onto the House floor, but by the time he had walked in, enough Republicans voted to sink the legislation.
Conservatives have insisted that Mr McCarthy prioritise passage of each of the 12 individual spending bills the House is supposed to complete before 30 September each year, three of which were successfully passed earlier this week. But none of those bills have any chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law by President Joe Biden.
One of the Republicans who joined with Democrats to defeat the McCarthy-endorsed measure, Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida, told reporters that the bill’s failure shows that the “House has proven two things”.
“We have the ability to pass single subject spending bills ... and the House has also proven that it cannot pass a continuing resolution that reverts back to the old ways of Washington, he very ways that have led that have led this country to sit atop a $33 trillion debt with $2 trillion annual deficit,” he said.
He added: “My sole focus is on getting our single subject spending bills passed. The speaker’s continuing resolution went down in flames, as I’ve told you all week it would. The House of Representatives can pass single subject spending bills, we will not pass a continuing resolution on terms that continue America’s decline”.
Mr Gaetz also said he was “calling on the Senate to immediately proceed” to the spending bills passed by the House earlier this week, even though senators from both parties have indicated that they would not support the House-passed measures.
The impasse between Mr McCarthy and the small group of House Republicans has paralysed the lower chamber and drawn ire from both the White House and the Senate’s two party leaders, both of whom have urged passage of a stopgap measure so the two chambers can work on full-year funding bills.
Rep Ralph Norman (R-SC) a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus who had initially opposed Mr McCarthy for speaker, said that the Republicans who opposed the legislation effectively allowed the Senate to write the rules on immigration that will not be as aggressive as theirs.
“That’s going to be the effect of it,” Mr Norman told The Independent.
Biden Administration officials have slammed Mr McCarthy for reneging on a deal reached several months ago during a previous impasse over the government’s statutory debt ceiling.
While Mr McCarthy has attempted to cast blame on Mr Biden and demanded that the president re-negotiate their prior agreement so it passes muster with the small number of House right-wingers who have threatened his speakership, the White House has thus far demurred while insisting that the Republican leader honour his word.
In an interview with National Public Radio on Friday, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients said there is “no need” for any meeting between the president and the speaker.
“The meeting that has to take place is in the House of Representatives — where House Republicans come together and fund the government,” he said.
Mr Zients added that he does not believe a shutdown will hurt the economy so long as any lapse in appropriations is brought to a swift end.
“We believe the economy is strong, and as long as House Republicans do their job, the economy will be fine and the government will function,” he said.
While the top Biden aide was confident about the economy over the longer term, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, told reporters on Friday that a lapse in appropriations would be the fault of Republicans and would cause severe damage to the economy and US national security in the near-term.
“More than 2 million service members wouldn't get their paycheck. Long term disaster recovery would be further delayed. Nutrition Assistance for nearly seven million women and children who rely on WIC would be jeopardised. Small businesses would lose out on more than $100 million dollars a day in loans,” she said.
Ms Young added that more than 1.5 million federal workers — of whom a quarter are also military veterans — would be furloughed or forced to work without pay if deemed “essential”. And while those civilian workers would receive back pay after a shutdown, the millions of federal contractors who’d be put out of work are not guaranteed the same relief.
“Our message is simple: House Republicans need to stick to the agreement we already reached and they already voted for, and do the job they were elected to do,” she said.
“Enough is enough. A deal is a deal. Extreme House Republicans need to stop playing political games with people's lives, keep their promise and keep the government open”.
Some Democrats called for Mr McCarthy to begin working with them to keep the government open.
“You can't allow Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene to dictate the rules of how we should be governing,” Rep Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Independent.
Rep Jasmine Crockett (D-TX) told The Independent that Democrats were more than willing to work with Mr McCarthy.
“They have infighting that is going on within their delegation because you've got some people that are Republicans, and then you have some people that are just straight up a part of the MAGA cult,” she said. “And until they decide that they actually want to govern in this body and come across the aisle and deal with the adults in the room, then the country unfortunately will continue to suffer.”