This month, due to infighting among Republicans in the House of Representatives, the US government is once again on the brink of a shutdown.
It is clear that Congress does not have time to pass the bills it needs to keep the government open before the funds run out on September 30. The question is whether the House can pass a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution. or CR, this is acceptable to the House Republican caucus, Senate Democrats, and President Joe Biden in the remaining time. That would give lawmakers the time they need to reach agreement on longer-term funding bills while avoiding a shutdown.
The main obstacle so far is that the Republican conference cannot agree on what the bill should contain in the short term: although the Republican Party is fiscally conservative overall, its members d The far right are pushing for more aggressive spending cuts, the attachment of border security policies and the omission of aid to Ukraine.
The latest development in this impasse has been the emergence of a compromise concocted by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team. Although some Republican lawmakers opposed to previous CR plans have said they would support it, it remains unclear whether enough members would ultimately support it.
McCarthy’s latest proposal is a short-term bill that would keep the government open for 30 days, set funding levels at $1.471 trillion per year (well below current levels of $1.7 trillion), establish a more conservative border policy and would create a commission to research ways to reduce the national debt. However, it does not include disaster aid or aid to Ukraine, both of which have been requested by the White House.
The compromise as written is all but dead on arrival in the Senate, which wants any CR to include Ukraine and disaster aid, as well as more spending. That means that even if it suppresses dissent in the House for now, it won’t help avoid a shutdown. Since Democrats control the upper chamber, they will push for a “clean” continuing resolution, one that would not be tied to a ton of other policies, like the immigration policies demanded by conservatives. This potential confrontation will force House Republicans to once again overcome their divisions.
What further complicates matters is the fact that the Republican Party in the House of Representatives has a very slim majority: if all its legislators are present (and they have not been recently), the Republicans only have four votes to lose. House Democrats are unlikely to support a bill that dramatically cuts spending, giving small groups of Republican lawmakers outsized control over the CR process and, ultimately, whether it closes or not from the government.
Below you will find the different factions in the House that are taking advantage of this small majority and jostling for their political priorities despite the looming closure deadline:
House Freedom Caucus
A conservative group at the heart of the shutdown drama, the Freedom Caucus has clearly opposed any short-term funding bill that does not meet its demands. These demands were made clear in a statement released in August, which included a push for CR language addressing the so-called “militarization of government” against conservatives, border security proposals, and measures to tackle what he called the “politics of awakening” in the military.
Although the group’s membership is somewhat private, it is estimated to have around three dozen members and therefore has the numbers necessary to obstruct the adoption of any compromise. Prominent members include Reps. Scott Perry (R-PA), Byron Donalds (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Chip Roy (R-TX).
Previously, the Freedom Caucus leadership helped negotiate another possible short-term funding deal, although it failed to gain full support from the group’s membership. The leaders involved, including Donalds and Roy, had highlighted victories the Caucus achieved under the deal, including significant spending cuts and border security policies.
In the past, the Freedom Caucus was known as the faction of the Republican Party willing to blow up legislation in order to make its broader point. Now that some of its demands have been included in the latest continuing resolution proposals, at least some members have begun signaling that they will join their caucus leaders this time.
Others who have been outspoken about the need for further spending cuts are archconservatives like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of the members who would be against the latest CR. Gaetz has at times been hesitant to approve any CR because he argues it would not result in significant changes in long-term financing as the U.S. debt continues to grow.
Gaetz has also been one of the most vocal lawmakers, threatening House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership, complicating an already delicate situation for the president. Under caucus rules, any member of the House Republican Party is allowed to challenge the president’s leadership at any time, and Gaetz has said he will try to oust the president if he does not give in to conservative demands for cuts more sustainable spending. However, a majority of the House would need to vote to remove the speaker for that to actually happen.
Another prominent lawmaker in this camp is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who, unlike Gaetz, is considered a McCarthy ally. She insisted that the Czech Republic not contribute to aid to Ukraine, a battle she appears to have won in the latest version of the bill. Once again, the Senate emphatically emphasized that it had no intention of passing a resolution that did not include aid to Ukraine, raising the question of how Greene and those sympathetic to her position on Ukraine would vote on whether the House was forced to compromise to avoid, or end, a shutdown.
Main Street Caucus
A self-described pragmatic group of about 70 lawmakers that includes Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Stephanie Bice (R-OK), the Main Street Caucus says it is committed to conservative principles, pro-business policies and productivity. Its members dislike being described as moderate and emphasize that they support conservative ideals, but support a functioning Congress. Although they also like spending cuts, the Main Street Caucus is less supportive of a possible shutdown.
“Our caucus hates cliffs, we hate dumpster fires, we hate chaos. We aim to be the adults in the room,” Johnson previously told Roll Call.
The Main Street Caucus also participated in negotiations over the earlier GOP spending deal, which Freedom Caucus leaders supported but rank-and-file members rejected. The version of CR they proposed is now dead, although Main Street lawmakers also appear to largely support the latest proposal.
Increasingly, it appears that one likely path out of a shutdown could be some form of legislative compromise between Republicans and moderate Democrats. McCarthy has already worked with Democrats on a budget deal expected to govern negotiations over the fall spending bill. This partnership has not been well received among the more right-wing parts of the caucus, and if he tried to work with Democrats again, McCarthy would risk one of his members beginning the process of removing him from leadership .
All of this hasn’t stopped several different groups from floating the idea of a bipartisan solution. This includes discussions by the center-right Republican Governance Group, which has about 40 members; the center-left New Democratic Coalition, which has more than 90 members; and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which has more than 60 members.
This week, the Problem Solvers Caucus presented a framework with its compromise ideas that included funding the government at current levels through January 11, a border security proposal, disaster relief funds and aid to Ukraine. Even if it’s the kind of proposal that could reasonably pass through the Senate and the White House, its disaster aid and money from Ukraine will likely make it unacceptable to the most conservative members of the Republican Party in the House, thus reducing its chances of winning them over.