How a government shutdown could play in the 2024 election

BY MABINTY QUARSHIE Washington Examiner



The Gazette, Colorado Springs


Congress has less than two full weeks to agree to some form of legislation that will fund the government past its Sept. 30 deadline, but as hard-line House GOP members buck a recently announced continuing resolution brokered between the House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Main Street Caucus, it appears that the nation is barreling perilously close to a government shutdown. The impacts of a shutdown could move beyond the lost productivity, high economic costs, disruption in federal programs and services, and the cost of furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal employees. Plus, a potential shutdown comes as the 2024 presidential election moves into full swing ahead of the Jan. 14 Iowa caucuses. With President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, the two front-runners in the Democratic and Republican parties, both seeking reelection, the blame game over a shutdown will likely become fodder on the campaign trail. And if past shutdowns are any indication, Republicans may need to gear up to be on the offense. Biden and the Democratic-led Senate are almost certain to sink the continuing resolution from the GOP-led House given their repeated opposition to the measure. Further complicating the issue is that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has struggled to rein in the House Freedom Caucus members who are pushing for several provisions, chief among them keeping spending at the fiscal 2022 level of $1.47 trillion, which is roughly $120 billion lower than the spending level established in June when the debt ceiling deal was brokered. A failure to placate these hard-liners could cost McCarthy his speakership. The House has managed to pass only one of the 12 appropriation bills needed to keep the government funded. But as the nation creeps closer to Sept. 30, House Republicans are already blaming Democrats for any potential shutdown. “If you’re running $2 trillion deficit, Fitch Ratings just downgraded our debt, there have to be some substantive changes,” Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., said during the Pray Vote Stand Summit on Friday. “The Senate’s position is clean continuing resolution and funding the government even more than what we funded it last year. It just simply doesn’t make any sense. And so if there’s going to be a shutdown, it’s because the Senate is going to create one.” “We have to hold the line,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who said a shutdown is inevitable. “And to hold the line, we got to have a centralized message. We got to constrain spending and do our job to make sure the troops are funded to do their job, and we got to secure the border of the United States, and that’s gonna be a centralized theme as we head into October.” The American public though is wary of a shutdown. A poll from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation released last month showed that an overwhelming majority of voters, 90% of voters, including 91% of Democrats and 89% of Republicans, want to avoid a shutdown. A January 2019 Pew Research Survey showed that 61% of people disapproved of how Trump handled that year’s partial shutdown, the longest in the nation’s history. Almost an identical amount, 60%, disapproved of Republican congressional leaders, and 53% disapproved of Democratic congressional leaders, a sign that Republicans may get more of the blame during yet another shutdown. “In past shutdowns, Republicans have often been blamed. They generally have lost negotiating position,” said Ed Mills, an analyst at Raymond James, an international financial services company. “Part of what we have observed about Speaker McCarthy’s leadership has been a desire to show that if Republicans have a majority in the House, the government is able to function. And so if the government does not function and shuts down under that leadership, that’s part of the reason why the general view is a shutdown has a disproportionate impact on the Republican House majority.” Similarly, Alan Abramowitz, professor emeritus of political science at Emory University, told the Washington Examiner the GOP could likely bear the brunt of the fallout from a shutdown. “My impression is McCarthy and the Republican leadership are worried about a shutdown and about how it would play out and that it might hurt them as it has in the past,” he said. “The White House I think would be very clear that it’s because what they would be demanding would be big cuts in government spending, but then cuts in what? And if the Democrats and the Biden administration can make it clear that what these huge cuts they’re demanding would require cuts in popular government programs, then I think that public opinion would probably swing somewhat toward the Democrats on this.” A group of 98 members of the New Democrat Coalition urged McCarthy in a letter Monday to advance a bipartisan appropriations bill similar to an effort in the Senate. “We urge you to reject the hyperpartisan approach and focus on passing government funding legislation that can actually become law,” the group wrote. “In the absence of viable appropriations bills from the House Appropriations Committee, we urge you to, at the very least, bring bills similar to the bipartisan bills that have already passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee for a vote on the House Floor.” The Senate is working on a “minibus,” legislation that would combine three spending measures into one, quickening the appropriations process. The effort was blocked last week by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who wants the upper chamber to consider each bill one by one. The Senate met on Monday to consider a military appropriations bill, part of the minibus. The Senate’s more bipartisan process has put even more glare on McCarthy’s inability to handle the House GOP, said Bruce Oppenheimer, professor emeritus of political science at Vanderbilt University. “It doesn’t mean there aren’t some conservatives in the Senate who are trying to block stuff. But you do have some real bipartisan efforts to really enforce the agreement, which got worked out earlier in the year,” he said, referencing the debt ceiling agreement. “That’s the other weakness of the Republican side,” Oppenheimer continued. “There was a budget agreement that was stipulated. And now the question is, are you going to stick to that agreement or not?” Trump weighed into the conversation over the shutdown when he signaled agreement with the hardline conservatives. “If they don’t get a fair deal, we have to save our country. We have $35 trillion in debt,” Trump told NBC News’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “I’d shut down the government if they can’t make an appropriate deal, absolutely.” A shutdown would also not halt federal investigations Trump is facing from special counsel Jack Smith. A 2021 plan from the Justice Department stated, “Criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property.” Yet Mills also said the shutdown’s impact may affect Biden’s reelection campaign. “I think that the concern for President Biden is every president in the last 80 years has won reelection unless there was a recession,” he said. “And if you are in a shutdown, is that yet another push towards the economy in the direction of a recession?” For Republicans, a shutdown could lead Democrats to attack them on the campaign trail as ineffective leaders. “It makes you more vulnerable,” Oppenheimer said. “When campaign season rolls around and you’re being attacked as a member from Congress that didn’t get things done. And then your opponent says, ‘They caused the government shutdown. They didn’t do X, Y, and Z. They had hearings on Hunter Biden, but what did that produce?’” A potential shutdown may not just affect who controls Congress or the White House in 2024 but could further hurt American trust in government leaders, said one expert. “I think the honest result of a government shutdown and many of the other dysfunctional things is not about Republican vs. Democrat, as much as that it continues to contribute to the ongoing outrage and loss of trust that the American people have against and with their government,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “It looks terrible for everybody. That means people who are already disillusioned with the government have another thing to point to for that feeling, and it signals to our enemies around the world that we are not functioning.”