Despite the political risks associated with a government shutdown, it’s possible one could happen if Congress cannot agree on a change in the debt ceiling by April 28.
Congress left town on Friday and has two weeks to ponder a shutdown during Easter recess.
“The only ones who can shut down the government are the Republicans. You should ask them.”
It’s likely raising the debt ceiling will be a fairly quick process once legislators return after the recess.
After two embarrassing attempts to repeal former President Barack Obama’s hated Affordable Care Act before the recess, Republicans can ill afford another major humiliation. And unlike a failure to repeal Obamacare immediately, a government shutdown would have immediate consequences.
Federal parks and beaches could be shut down. Some federal offices could close. And the message would spread through the media and to the people: The Republican Congress and a GOP White House cannot govern.
Already, some Democrats are taking glee in a shutdown scenario, which would happen if the Congress cannot agree on a plan to keep funding the federal government. Congress has Republican majorities, and Democrats would like to see them flail, if not fail.
“Democrats have nothing to do with a shutdown,” said Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), tormenting the GOP on their majority control as he walked past reporters on Thursday in the Capitol. “The only ones who can shut down the government are the Republicans. You should ask them.”
Austan Goolsbee, a former economic adviser to President Obama, told TheStreet.com over the weekend that he thinks the Republicans will fail to win agreement within their own caucuses on a debt ceiling, causing the federal government to partially shut down.
“I think there is a decent chance that despite Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency, they stumble and punch themselves in the face and actually shut down the government, and then try to blame that on the Democrats,” Goolsbee said.
Its total control of the federal government that could be the Republicans’ biggest problem on the debt ceiling. Usually, raising the debt limit is a good time for congressmen to wax indignant about government spending and the national debt.
But now the Republicans can do something about it. The last time they had control of all branches were the years 2003 to 2007.
But with two wars raging and with concern about the debt reduced in the public mind, the GOP had to focus on other things. The Republicans took their eye off the debt and annual deficits, and they have regretted it.
Spending surged under President Obama, who almost doubled the national debt. The debt now approaches $20 trillion.
Congress fought Obama on spending, forcing a sequester in 2011, and forcing a brief government shutdown in 2013.
But without the White House, the GOP couldn’t set the pace on spending. Now it can.
President Donald Trump released a budget that is seen by many in Congress as “dead on arrival.” The Trump budget called for massive cuts to discretionary spending, and some House Republicans have balked at supporting it.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) described Trump’s cuts in “skinny budget” as “draconian, careless and counterproductive.”
But the debt ceiling is an opportunity for congressmen to add conditions to raising the limit on how much the federal government is allowed to borrow. It’s how Congress won concessions from Obama in 2011.
It’s that opportunity that has some pundits wondering if the conservatives in the GOP caucuses, such as the House Freedom Caucus, will cause the same kind of grief for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that they caused on Obamacare-repeal efforts. If Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cannot reach agreement with their own caucus — and they get no help from Democrats — the government could shut down.
But the moderates also want deals.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters in the Capitol that he will not vote for a “continuing resolution,” or CR, that keeps government spending on the same track for now. McCain believes that current limit is too low for the Pentagon.
“I will not vote for a CR no matter what the consequences because passing a CR destroys the ability of the military to defend this nation, and it puts the lives of the men and women in the military at risk,” McCain told CNN. “I can’t do that to them.”
On Thursday, McCain repeated that line several times to reporters.
“There will be no continuing resolution,” said McCain.
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