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A full government shutdown is all but certain this weekend after House Republicans failed to unite around a temporary funding measure Friday.
The last ditch effort to keep the government open suffered a dramatic, if not entirely surprising, defeat as 21 GOP holdouts joined all House Democrats in voting against the measure, doubling down on their previous commitment to refuse any stopgap spending bill.
This act of defiance towards House Speaker Kevin McCarthy shined the spotlight on his struggle to find consensus in his fractious conference, which holds only a three-seat majority. Government funding is still likely to expire at midnight Saturday night, unless McCarthy can find 218 votes for a reworked, potentially shorter-term, proposal.
Utah Republican Reps. Blake Moore, John Curtis and Burgess Owens all voted in favor of the continuing resolution Friday.
Last minute votes on continuing resolutions or omnibus spending bills have become a regular feature of Congress’ annual appropriations process, rather than passing the 12 annual spending bills on time.
McCarthy’s failed resolution, a more austere version of last week’s proposal, would have cut discretionary spending across all government agencies — excluding disaster, defense and veterans agencies — by around 30% and included provisions from the Secure the Border Act and the creation of a commission on debt and deficit, in exchange for keeping the government open for 30 days.
While McCarthy’s continuing resolution would have been dead on arrival in the Senate, it represented an opening bid laden with conservative priorities, similar to the initial deal worked out by House Republicans in May’s debt limit increase, Moore told the Deseret News Friday.
“What we just did a few minutes ago, makes it impossible for us to do that,” Moore said shortly after the failed continuing resolution vote. “We had 21 Republicans that voted against a bill that literally would have cut an enormous amount from the budget. And it would have been the best border security bill the Republican conference has ever done.”
Moore, like Curtis and Owens, agrees with the holdouts’ stated goal of passing annual spending bills individually so Congress can spend taxpayers’ dollars more responsibly, but insists that forcing a shutdown is counterproductive.
“Shutdowns do not solve our debt issues,” Moore said. “This is not a serious way to address our true, long-term, dangerous debt issues. And I feel that some want to grandstand as if they’re doing something about it, when they’re fundamentally not.”
Moore said the strategy of some House Republicans of objecting to every continuing resolution produced by their own party undermines the House GOP conference in future bipartisan negotiations with the Democrat-led Senate.
“Any bill to solve this problem is going to have bipartisan support. And we need to make sure that we get some of our conservative priorities in that bill. We failed to do that just a moment ago,” Moore said.
A possible solution from the Senate? Or a plan B in the House?
The Senate, under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, advanced a continuing resolution earlier this week that would keep the government funded for 47 days and included billions of dollars in new Ukraine assistance and disaster aid.
This proposal is a nonstarter among House Republicans and also among some in the Senate, including Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who have held up a final vote on the measure until at least Sunday morning, after a shutdown will have already begun.
In an effort to make the Senate proposal more palatable to conservatives, a bipartisan coalition, which includes Arizona independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, is seeking to include an amendment with border security provisions, while others are making the unlikely attempt to remove Ukraine funding.
Amid the confusion that followed the failed continuing resolution vote in the House, some members of the House Freedom Caucus, which has led the charge against McCarthy’s proposals, expressed interest in a potential three-day or seven-day, short-term spending bill to keep the government open and the focus on appropriations bills. McCarthy said Friday evening that a Senate proposal without additional Ukraine assistance could potentially make it through a floor vote in the House — an idea that Sen. Lee has echoed.
“Regardless of what else you put in it, a ‘clean’ CR with Ukraine funding will be dead on arrival in the House,” Lee said Friday in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
While he has also called for procedural changes to encourage addressing the nation’s debt and annual budget deficit, Lee has repeatedly spoken against the utility of a shutdown.
“I don’t want to see a government shutdown, and I am actively working to prevent one from occurring,” he said in a statement to the Deseret News on Friday.
Lee continued: “If the government runs out of funding, I’ll advocate to ensure the prompt return to work for all federal employees. Federal law now guarantees that federal employees receive back pay for any pay delayed because of a shutdown,” Lee’s statement said.
Moore, whose 1st Congressional District is home to nearly all of the state’s federal workers — an estimated 27,000 — has made a return to fiscal responsibility his central focus on the Hill but agrees a shutdown is nothing but harmful to his constituents and the Republican cause.
“Now, using these moments, like a debt ceiling, like a potential shutdown, as an opportunity to find wasteful spending, I’m all for it, and we have been doing that,” Moore said. “But you can’t leverage this for any type of attention getting, fundraising, grandstanding moments, to say that you’re actually doing something about the debt. That’s just not the case.”
What’s next in Congress’ appropriations negotiations?
In a burst of progress after two weeks characterized by dysfunction and stand still, the House passed three appropriations bills Thursday night, covering defense, homeland security and the State Department.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hoped this would seed confidence that his return to “regular order” was working and would continue under a temporary funding regime. However, Friday’s events quashed McCarthy’s hopes these late wins would motivate members to back a short-term spending bill to keep the government open.
“The People’s House made significant progress this week, passing three appropriations bills through regular order totaling 74% of federal funding, with the inclusion of the military funding bill we passed before August recess,” Rep. Owens said in a statement given to the Deseret News on Friday. “Earlier today, I supported a stopgap measure to keep the government open, secure our border, and bring fiscal sanity back to Washington. Unfortunately, it failed to pass the House.”
Despite this disappointment, Owens remains optimistic about the results of the current debate within the GOP.
“As negotiations and discussions continue, my colleagues and I are hard at work identifying the right path forward that funds our government, pays our troops, solves the border crisis, and ends the debt culture in Washington,” Owens’ statement continued.
Congress must pass 12 annual spending bills each year to fully fund government. The House passed the military construction and veteran affairs appropriations bill in July, bringing the total to four from the House. The Senate has not yet passed any of the annual spending bills.
House leadership said the chamber will stay in session all weekend to try and find a funding solution and will cancel the October district period to ensure maximum time to work through appropriations bills.