Republican-led House fails to approve stopgap bill as US govt braces for another shutdown

by IANS |

Washington, Sep 30 (IANS) The Republican-led US House of Representatives has failed to approve a one-month stopgap funding bill, as a federal government shutdown after Saturday midnight appears increasingly inevitable.

All Democrats and 21 Republicans voted against the measure late Friday night, in a vote of 232-198, marking a high-profile defeat for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has been struggling to garner enough support for a funding plan in the slim Republican majority, reports Xinhua news agency.

Earlier Friday, the lower chamber voted 218-210 to clear a key procedural hurdle for the measure amid opposition from Democrats and some hardline Republicans.

Even if House Republicans approved the bill, it would not be advanced in the Democratic-controlled Senate, as it calls for deep spending cuts and includes border security provisions, both opposed by Democrats.

Traditionally, the House moves first on spending and revenue bills but Republican infighting paralyzed the lower chamber, forcing Senators to make the first move on a stopgap bill in the last week ahead of a possible shutdown.

A bipartisan Senate-proposed bill, unveiled on Tuesday, is expected to fund the government until November 17, the week before Thanksgiving, with the funding levels continuing at the same levels as before.

It includes roughly $6 billion of aid for Ukraine and about $6 billion in disaster relief funding.

McCarthy said earlier this week that he didn't see support of the Senate measure in the House, which means there is little chance it will be brought to the House floor.

A group of conservatives have voiced concerns about Ukraine aid -- urging the Biden administration to make it part of the spending cuts -- and criticised the bill for a lack of border security provisions, which revealed the partisan divide over immigration policy.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described the "continuing resolution" as a "bridge" to buy negotiators more time to reach an agreement on a longer-term funding bill. Conservative Republicans, however, have demanded steep spending cuts and leaned against any stopgap bill.

Schumer on Wednesday lashed out at McCarthy for "constantly adhering to what the hard right wants", saying that this approach will inevitably lead to a shutdown.

McCarthy, who is facing a significant challenge to his leadership, has no choice but to try working with the right wing of the Republican Party, as the slim Republican majority means that even five "rebels" are enough to defeat a Republican legislative agenda.

A group of far-right House Republicans are even plotting an attempt to remove McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the effort.

Greg Cusack, a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives, told Xinhua that he cannot begin to adequately express how "embarrassing and infuriating" this present moment is to him.

Cusack, a long time Democrat, said the "clowns and/or bomb-throwers" in the Republican Party have no interest in governing.

"Rather, they represent the decades-long descent of more and more Republicans into ideological madness."

"One of the nastier reasons also behind this little maneuver is that while a majority of voters will likely blame the Republicans for the shutdown in the long run, any shutdown that lasts more than a few days will rapidly have implications that effect almost every citizen sooner or later, and this creates a very sour mood for election year 2024.

"And incumbent presidents have a difficult time winning re-election in a year when people are angry, anxious, and worried about the future," said Cusack.

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called out his House colleagues, "clearly trying to isolate them, likely hoping to keep them from tainting the whole party in the eyes of voters before the 2024 election".

McConnell said earlier this week that "shutting down the government isn't an effective way to make a point".

Republican Senator Joni Ernst, meanwhile, said "Congress is not working."

It is not uncommon for the US federal government to halt its operations due to intense political fights between the two parties, especially as partisan hostility has grown in recent years.

The most recent and longest government shutdown occurred from late 2018 to early 2019 when Democrats opposed funding for the US-Mexico border wall proposed by then-President Donald Trump, and the two parties were stuck in a stalemate over immigration issues, leading to a five-week shutdown.

In 2013, during the Barack Obama administration, some conservative Republican lawmakers blocked the implementation of Obamacare, leading to a 16-day government shutdown.

The government started notifying federal workers on Thursday that a government shutdown, the 22nd in US history, seems to be imminent. In a government shutdown, all non-essential operations will be suspended, and many federal workers will be furloughed.

Moody's Investors Service warned earlier this week that a government shutdown could hurt America's top credit rating, as it would underscore the weakness of U.S. institutional and governance strength relative to other AAA-rated sovereigns.

A long-drawn-out stalemate could negatively impact the economy. JPMorgan estimates that each week of government shutdown reduces GDP growth by 0.1 percentage point. 

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