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  • Sheri Rivlin Allan Rivlin

Government Shutdown is Part of Broader Efforts to Destabilize President Biden and the US Economy

Trump aligned House Republicans appear to be hell bent on breaking the US Congress, deposing Kevin McCarty (R-CA) as Speaker, and shutting down the Government. It is part of a broader effort to hamper the US economy, re-elect Trump as President, and allow Vladimir Putin to win his war against Ukraine.

We are now five days from the September 30 end of fiscal year 2023. Any time the fiscal year is ending, and the government needs a new budget to continue operations, lawmakers face three options:

1) Maintain current funding levels for each line item of the budget, with or without adjusting for inflation, growth in the economy, and growth in the US population. Often this is done temporarily as a continuing resolution (CR) lasting a matter of weeks or months. This is the path of least resistance often reached in contentious budget stand-offs. The downside is the government is on “auto-pilot” without adjusting for changing priorities and circumstances.

2) Negotiate a bipartisan budget agreement to change funding levels to adapt to new priorities and changing circumstances. This is the most desirable option because the politically difficult policy changes we need to reduce government borrowing are only possible through bipartisan agreements and because bipartisan policies are generally more durable offering greater consistency and predictability for businesses and individuals in the economy. Or

3) Fight for partisan changes to the budget even if they are opposed by the other party. This is the choice of conflict over compromise and for several decades Republicans have added threats of government shutdowns and possible default on the national debt to force Democratic leaders to accept policies their supporters abhor. These efforts have generally failed and after months of threats and several shut-downs Republicans have retreated and the government has been funded at current levels as described in option 1) above.

Here we go again. President Biden, most Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, as well as most Democrats and many moderate Republicans in the House would prefer the bipartisan option 2). They have not been working hard enough, boldly enough, or visibly enough to create a sense that there is a real commitment to solving our national problems through bipartisan action, but the Senate has been making progress on turning bipartisan spending proposals into the needed legislation to keep the government open – including full funding of American assistance for Ukraine.

The real problem -- for all of us -- is the Trump-wing Republicans in the House who have been insisting on option 3) since the start of the year. The House is now performing their version of a slow-motion train wreck with Republican Caucus meetings breaking down in shouting, threats, and expletives.

In a stunning break with precedent, last Tuesday and again on Thursday, Trump-aligned Republican members of Congress blocked a floor vote on the FY 2024 defense appropriations bill when both the bill and the rule were written by Republican controlled committees. The bill that was pulled from the House Floor, and any likely bill that would replace it, face a near certain rejection in the Senate and a presidential veto. In other words, the Republicans in the House have neither the unity, nor the legislative talent to start a budget fight, let alone end a budget fight. This is what has congressional observers so worried at this point, there may be no exit strategy because shutting down the government may be the point of the exercise. And we are only talking about one of the 13 taxing and spending bills that comprise the Federal Budget Appropriations process Republicans once promised they would pass through “regular order.”

The Trump-aligned insurgent Republicans have earned the nickname “the Chaos Caucus” by working to thwart regular order at every turn starting with the 15 votes it took to elect McCarthy as House Speaker in January. Many members of this group are members of the Freedom Caucus but it is not correct to call them “ultra-conservative” or “far-right” because they show no consistent commitment to any political philosophy. The White House is correct to label them “ultra-MAGA” because they are loyal only to the defeated former president. “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down,” McCarthy lamented on Thursday. He should have realized this much sooner.

After allowing McCarthy to hold the Speaker’s gavel they insisted that he threaten a national debt default in a reckless gambit to gain more bargaining leverage in negotiations with the Democrats in control of the Senate and White House than their narrow control of the House would normally allow. That manufactured “crisis” ended in June 2023, less than four months ago, when President Biden and McCarthy negotiated a bipartisan budget agreement. Under close scrutiny the deal they struck made such small changes in projected spending as to be almost an option 1) style continuing resolution. Many Republicans in the chaos caucus criticized the deal and those same Republicans are now fighting to break that agreement and are making threats to remove McCarthy as Speaker.

That June agreement narrowly defined the budget parameters for FY 2024 that begins on October 1 and Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have been working cooperatively to write a budget reflecting those guidelines. In the lower chamber chaos reigns. McCarthy is no longer trying to pass a budget along the lines he negotiated with President Biden just a few months ago, but his caucus is bucking his efforts to get them to support any alternative. The hard-liner flank is making it clear they welcome the fight with President Biden and the Democrats and the fight with Kevin McCarthy and Republican moderates, and they want to shut down the government more than they want to keep the government open. Republicans are also divided over funding Ukraine as former president Donald Trump, Fox News, and many Congressional Republicans have begun repeating Vladimir Putin’s talking points to base Republican voters.

To put it another way, the insurgent Trump wing of the Republican Party has no interest in keeping Joe Biden’s government open, or in funding President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s (who was in Washington last week) war of defense against the unprovoked Russian invasion. They are going to find this effort impossible to sustain. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and the more sensible moderate Republican Members of Congress all know an extended government shutdown will be bad news for all elected Republicans – just as it was bad news for Newt Gingrich in the 1990s and John Boehner a decade later.

A government shutdown, if it is not averted by a deal to allow the bipartisan Senate bill to reach the House Floor where it would pass with bipartisan support, must be understood for what it would be, part of a strategy to take attention off Donald Trump’s legal troubles and to destabilize America under President Biden. Both Former President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have a common interest in a Trump victory in November 2024. Trump hopes it would allow him to pardon himself for the many crimes for which he has been indicted. Putin sees a Trump victory as the only way he can avoid a defeat in Ukraine. The investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller found that Putin’s government worked in an illegal, “sweeping and systematic fashion” to help Trump win the 2016 election. Since taking office Trump and Putin have been not-so-secret political allies punctuated by Trump’s “America First” efforts to undermine US alliances in Europe, NATO, and the United Nations.

Republican elected officials would be expected to support Trump should he again secure the party’s nomination in 2024, but they differ in the tactics they are willing to employ to achieve this goal. Trump and the MAGA Republicans, aided by Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the far-right media echo chamber seem to see no limits, including a willingness to politically attack President Biden and his family, weaken or remove McCarthy as Speaker, shut down the Congress and the federal Government, and meaningfully weaken the US economy.

The House of Republicans moved toward impeaching President Biden without producing any evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors as they join Breitbart, Fox News, and Newsmax in the continuing drumbeat of allegations of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden. The same media outlets and many Republican lawmakers including Freedom Caucus Chair Rep Scott Perry (R-PA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) are parroting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda to undermine American support for Ukraine’s defense against the unprovoked and murderous Russian invasion, as Putin is adding his voice to the false Trump legal defense. Another Trump aligned foreign government, Saudi Arabia which gave $2 billion to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s investment fund, has joined Putin in restricting oil exports dramatically raising oil and gas prices. This undermines the Federal Reserve Banks efforts to tame inflation and President Biden’s efforts to tout the strong economy.

It is never easy to be President, but Trump and his allies are working to make it as difficult as possible, even if it means weakening American foreign policy, raising prices on American families, and shutting down the US government. It is time everyone noticed what has been going on.

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