Republican Chaos Fuels Threat of Government Shutdown

Jesse Jackson | 9/28/2023, 12:26 p.m.
Unless warring factions of Republicans in the House of Representatives can come to their senses, the United States government will ...
Jesse Jackson

Unless warring factions of Republicans in the House of Representatives can come to their senses, the United States government will shut down next Sunday.

Some may not notice – we tend to rely on government only when we are in need. But the impact – and the hurt – will be immediate – and will grow over time. Nearly a million federal employees will be furloughed and sent home without pay until there is a resolution.

Everything we rely on from the government will slow down or be halted. Home mortgage and loan applications will be delayed. The inability to get government permits will impede everything from commercial fishing to health research to visas and passports. National parks will struggle to stay open, but they will overflow with human waste. Health and scientific research will be disrupted. As we continue to get hit with extreme weather, the emergency help provided by the government will start to run out.

Some vital services will continue. The military will stay on the job – although civilian defense workers will either be sent home or work without pay. Social Security and Medicare checks will go out – but the newly retired are likely to find their applications delayed.

As always, the vulnerable will be hurt the most. The janitors that clean offices, the food workers that serve food in cafeterias, the security guards who provide safety and others who work for government contractors will not be paid – and may never be paid for what they lose. Many of these earn poverty wages. Their families will suffer if they lose income for a few days, much less a few weeks.

The White House reports that 10,000 children from low-income families would lose access to the Head Start preschool program. Pell grants will continue, but new applications will be delayed. An extended delay will constrict federal aid to schools, parks, police, and arts programs.

Families living in public housing will get hit. With HUD employees sent home, funding to fix furnaces, roofs, and windows will be disrupted. As contracts for low-income housing expire, HUD will be unable to renew them.

Those seeking to start a new business will be unable to secure loans from the Small Business Administration. Subcontractors across the country – the smaller businesses that supply vital services to bigger government contractors – will go without pay; many will be forced to the edge.

This shutdown – if it occurs – will be worse than the one that took place when Donald Trump was president. At that time, Congress had passed appropriations for several major agencies – from the Defense Department to the Department of Education. They continued to operate as normal. This time, the House has failed to pass any appropriations bill. Republicans could not even agree on a Defense Appropriations Bill to send to the Senate.

The threat comes directly from the chaos in the Republican Party. This isn’t a battle between the parties. The Republican majority in the House hasn’t even begun to negotiate with the Democratic majority in the Senate. Republicans can’t agree among themselves on what to pass, with their leaders held hostage by an extreme right that even Republican House members call the “clown show.”

The objectors claim to be concerned about deficits but that’s not true. Any serious effort on deficits would have to include reversing the deep tax cuts given to the rich and getting control of soaring medical and defense spending. The objectors want more tax breaks for the wealthy, more money for the Pentagon, and oppose even modest steps to rein in prescription drug costs. Their main target is any provision that goes to the vulnerable. Republicans already blocked extension of the child tax credit that reduced childhood poverty by 40 percent during the pandemic. Now they want to cut aid to schools, food stamps, support for low-cost housing, Pell grants for students and more – and, of course, reverse Biden’s programs to rebuild our infrastructure or begin to deal with the climate crisis.

In order to avoid a government default on our debt earlier this year, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated an agreement with Joe Biden on funding levels for the coming year. Now the zealots in McCarthy’s party refuse to abide by that deal. McCarthy could sidestep them and put together a majority, drawing from the bulk of his party and moderate Democrats, but he refuses to reach out to Democrats. The result: a handful of right-wing zealots are barreling toward forcing a shutdown of the entire government.

Efforts will be made this week simply to pass a short-term “continuing resolution (CR).” That would fund the government at current levels for a few weeks or months providing more time to figure a way out. Hopefully, there are enough sensible Republicans in the House to join with Democrats to pass the CR and keep the government running. Millions will suffer if that doesn’t happen – and they will suffer for no good reason at all.

(You can write to the Rev. Jesse Jackson in care of this newspaper or by email at jjackson@rainbowpush.org. Follow him on Twitter @RevJJackson.)