The House of Representatives passed a stopgap measure to prevent a government shutdown Tuesday evening, September 22. After weeks of failed discussions – or “a lot of to-and-fro’ing,” as Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) put it – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin came to an agreement, and the House passed the resulting bill 359 to 57. It is expected to clear the Senate and be signed by President Trump.
This is a temporary measure, however, and it only keeps the country humming along until December 11. Congress and the president will have to come back to this during the lame-duck period – and, quite likely, after a potentially nasty Supreme Court nominee confirmation battle. But they’ll also have to address several issues not covered by this CR, from funding for the border wall to renaming Confederate monuments. Some view this bipartisanship optimistically, seeing it as a sign that Congress can work together in the months to come. But with a SCOTUS showdown practically guaranteed and the likelihood that one side or the other will be sore over the election results, could this merely be the calm before the storm – well, as calm as it gets?
It Ain’t All Sunshine and Rainbows
Of the 57 who voted against the bill, Michigan Independent Justin Amash was the only non-Republican who opposed. A total of 13 Republicans and one Democrat didn’t vote at all, and – while no Democrats voted “Nay,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voted “Present.” That’s an interesting position for her to take, given her response to fellow Democrat, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, voting “present” on impeachment. “Whenever we have a vote, we should vote ‘yes’ and we should vote ‘no,’” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Voting ‘present’ is a very tough position to be in. To not take a stand in a moment that is so consequential, I think it’s quite difficult.” She went on to say that she’s sure Rep. Gabbard would “be answering [questions] and discussing her rationale in the days ahead.” One wonders what Ms. Ocasio-Cortez might have to say about her rationale if asked in the days ahead.
Not everyone was happy with the timing, either. “Let’s be clear, the fact that we are passing a CR without having already passed an additional COVID stimulus bill represents cruelty and gross incompetence of the highest order,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) proclaimed.
The Give and Take
This temporary funding agreement effectively kicks the can a little farther down the road, but well past the November elections. There was a good deal of give and take involved, and both sides walk away with something to sell to their voters. Republicans got the agricultural funding they wanted. Speaker Pelosi boasts of the provision that none of the money can go to fossil fuel importers or refiners, but the Trump administration had already said that it wouldn’t. Democratic Party leaders had initially hoped to block this measure, but lawmakers on both sides argued that it was critical to get farmers across the nation the help they need to make it through the COVID crisis.
The Democrats walked away with serious bragging rights to their base in the form of $8 billion in nutritional assistance, including a year-long extension of a program for families with children who can’t get free or reduced-price meals at school because of school closures. That’s four times what they initially requested, even if the trade-off was tens of billions for the farmer trade relief payments the White House wanted.
This bill does not include any additional pandemic assistance, though, and Democrats had to let go any hopes of additional funding for election security or an extension of the U.S. census redistricting deadlines.
A Gamble for Both Sides
Seemingly confident in their chances this election cycle, the Democrats wanted this bill to extend out to February – giving what they hope to be a Democrat-controlled Congress and President Joe Biden plenty of time to get settled in. Of course, with a Democrat in the White House – and especially if they can maintain control of the House and/or take the Senate – Democrats could then demand terms they find far more favorable. Such a plan could easily have backfired on them; if Trump is re-elected and Republicans establish a stronger position in the House or the Senate – or both – then Democrats wouldn’t have much say in the matter.
But that wasn’t a risk the Republicans were willing to take. Instead, they managed to shorten the bill, requiring the next vote to be held after the election, but before any newly elected politicians can take office. This, of course, is another gamble altogether. Now, if the Republicans do sweep Congress and Trump is re-elected, they’ll be forced to vote on funding with the current congressional layout – and face off against quite a few angry lame ducks. Whether they lose the House or not, if Trump wins and – win or lose – if he manages to get another Supreme Court Justice on the bench, Democrats are bound to be in a foul mood come December.
Regardless of who wins what elections, one way or another, we face a lame-duck vote on one of the more contentious issues in politics today: government funding. How can we expect anything but a storm this winter?
Read more from James Fite.