Few things strike greater fear into the hearts of many congressional Republicans — especially senators — than the specter of a “government shutdown.”
The fact – not the myth – however, is that not one of the more than a half dozen government “shutdowns” the nation has survived since the 1970s was anything close to a “shutdown.” Still, many in the GOP quake at the mere mention of one, and rush to vote “Aye” for whatever spending bill is placed before them in order to avoid being labeled by their Democrat colleagues and the corporate media as budgetary Scrooges.
While these so-called “shutdowns” do result in temporary problems for the functioning of the government and its millions of workers, the occurrences are neither government-wide nor permanent. In every case, the results are both temporary and partial, affecting only certain, “non-essential” federal workers.
Government shutdowns are the result of budget disputes between Democrats and Republicans in the Congress or between the Congress and the White House, but always accompanied by both parties’ failure to do their jobs and pass appropriations bills to fund all government agencies by the end of the fiscal year each September 30th.
This year, 18 Republican Senators blinked in their very open dispute with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) over the massive $1.7 trillion spending package laid out before them just days before Christmas. Following that senatorial GOP capitulation, nine Republican House members jumped onto the spending spree bandwagon orchestrated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her soon-to-disappear majority in the lower chamber. Not surprisingly, departing Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney was one of the Republican Nine.
Headlines announcing the passage of the $1.7 trillion package lauded the “bipartisan” nature of the votes, and emphasized that it would “avert [a] government shutdown.” Conveniently missing in such media coverage, of course, was any explanation that, as in the past, most federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and our military forces, would have continued to operate even if Senate leaders had failed to reach agreement prior to the December 23rd “shutdown” deadline.
Top Republican budget negotiator Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama led the 18-member strong Republican “aye” bloc, by trumpeting that the big package had “a lot of stuff in it.”
There was indeed a lot of “stuff” in the bill, in terms of both spending and substance. Included on the spending side was yet another multi-billion dollar aid package for Ukraine. On the substance side was a provision clarifying that the vice president’s role in certifying presidential election results is purely ceremonial, and another increasing the requirements for Members to contest the electoral vote certification.
Left on the Senate floor were several measures important to the GOP, such as extension of the Title 42 immigration requirement that has served at least to temporarily and partially slow the massive flood of illegal immigration unleashed by the Biden Administration. An amendment that will somewhat continue the Trump-Administration imposed Title 42 policy was adopted at the request of Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Montana Democrat Jon Tester.
Republican efforts to stop the massive $80 billion increase to the IRS hiring budget were, not surprisingly, unsuccessful. Also set to receive significant budget increases are Democrat priorities at the EPA and the National Labor Relations Board, among many others.
The massive spending bill included a significant number of “community funding projects,” a euphemism adopted recently to avoid use of the term “earmarks.” Just between the two top Senate budget negotiators – Shelby for the GOP and Vermont’s Patrick Leahy for the Democrats – nearly $1 billion in such spending flowed to their two states alone.
Still, at the end of the day, as explained by such otherwise self-proclaimed fiscal conservative Republicans as South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, the “emergency” aid to Ukraine and increased budgets for our own defense were the price to pay to avoid the dreaded “government shutdown.” Graham was in the House back in Dec. 1995 and Jan. 1996, when Speaker Newt Gingrich and a solid House majority had President Bill Clinton on the ropes in that winter’s equally mis-named “shutdown” — on the ropes, that is, until as just happened last week more than a quarter century later, the GOP folded.
Some things just do not change.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.