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Washington Wednesday: Continuing without resolution


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: Continuing without resolution

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struggles to gain enough Republican support to pass appropriations bills

The Capitol is seen under cloudy skies in Washington, Monday morning, Sept. 11 Associated Press Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 20th of September, 2023. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: the government’s spending plan.

On Sunday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy negotiated a tentative deal with House Republicans he hoped would stave off a government shutdown looming next week.

He was trying to buy some additional time to pass House appropriations bills.

REICHARD: But not every Republican is on board, and the speaker is operating on very thin margins. He can afford to lose just four GOP votes.

Congress now has just eight business days to pass a budget plan and avert shutdown almost certainly to be blamed on Republicans.

What exactly is going on and how is it likely to resolve over the next few weeks?

EICHER: It’s Washington Wednesday, and here is Washington Bureau Reporter Leo Briceno.

LEO BRICENO, REPORTER: Every year, Congress has to fund the government through a process that includes “appropriations.” Before the federal government can spend money, the Constitution requires The House of Representatives to approve where those dollars go.

Traditionally, that’s done through twelve separate bills. One for agriculture, one for transportation, energy, and so on.

Or at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Starting in the late 1970’s, House leadership began bypassing the regular process by rolling all spending into one “omnibus” bill—sometimes thousands of pages long…and that’s the way they’ve been doing it for 30 years. It saves time, but frustrated Republicans today say it comes at the expense of meaningful congressional input.

Here’s Texas Congressman Chip Roy, speaking in opposition to last year’s bill.

CHIP ROY: What you see here is a 4,000-page bill cooked up by a handful of people behind closed doors brought before the rules committee with no ability to offer an amendment, no ability to debate, no actual discussion on the people’s House floor.

Kevin McCarthy, who was elected to become House Speaker less than a month after Roy’s speech, promised to bring back the 12 appropriations bills. That pledge was a key reason why he won Republican support to become speaker.

And it’s a promise McCarthy would gladly keep. But he’s running out of time to pass something by the deadline of October 1st. That’s led him to propose a minibus.

This stopgap measure would include three of the twelve appropriations bills that focus on security and defense. Dr. Jared Pincin, associate professor of Economics at Cedarville University, says it's a way to buy time.

PINCIN: So maybe it's a 10-day measure, maybe it's a 2-week measure. Maybe it's till the end of the year. They’re in place to get us to a longer-term solution.

But the Freedom Caucus, some of the most conservative members in the House, aren’t on board—at least not yet.

The group says it considers McCarthy’s resolution a non-starter unless they can secure a few concessions: reduced spending overall, more construction on the southern border wall, procedural FBI oversight, and stepping away from a “blank check” support of Ukraine.

In the eyes of the Freedom Caucus, it’s bad enough that McCarthy tried to suggest another omnibus bill—even a small one. Some members, such as Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, have proposed stripping McCarthy of his speakership altogether for not keeping his promise. Here’s Gaetz last week.

GAETZ: Mr Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role. The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate total compliance or remove you pursuant to a motion to vacate the chair.

So far, McCarthy isn’t backing down…and that leaves the country positioned for a federal shutdown if Republicans in Gaetz’s camp hold their ground.

So what might a shutdown look like?

For starters, the government won’t stop completely. Social Security and Medicare, for instance, would continue to run. So would the IRS. And in 2019, government employees that went without work for a month eventually received back pay. Pincin predicts that the economic fallout of a shutdown would be minimal…but talking it up has political benefits.

PINCIN: Part of that is negotiation is you're negotiating out in the public, trying to curry public favor. And the real work is happening behind the scenes. So that’s the difficult part of piercing out what’s actually happening, unless you’re actually in those negotiations.

Pincin says markets are a better indicator of whether or not there actually is a crisis. While McCarthy, Republicans, and the White House will likely stress the severity of the shutdown to leverage their arguments, businesses will focus on substantive changes.

PINCIN: And right now, the markets are not anticipating any sort of large damage—really any damage at all, as far as I can tell; the markets aren’t adjusting. That’s telling me that there’s a lot of smoke rather than actual changes for the good or for the bad. No one is expecting anything radical.

For now, McCarthy is sticking to his guns.

MCCARTHY: Threats don't matter, and sometimes people do those things because of personal things and that's all fine. I focus just like anything else. If you watched most people get to speaker on the first round, it took me 15. I'm a little Irish, ok? So I don't walk away from a battle. I knew changing Washington would not be easy. And you know what? If it takes a fight, I'll have a fight.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leo Briceno.

REICHARD: Well, joining us to continue the conversation is Erick Erickson. He is an attorney, host of the Erick Erickson Show, and a WORLD Opinions contributor. Erick, good morning!

ERIC ERICKSON: Good morning.

REICHARD: Well, the president of Ukraine is heading to Capitol Hill tomorrow to lobby for a new aid package. Where do you think Republicans in Congress are on sending more money to Ukraine?

ERICKSON: I think most of the Republicans, particularly in the Senate, support it. In the House, there's a real division. Kevin McCarthy, privately, I'm led to believe, supports it, but understands he has these divisions. I don't see how this gets passed without funding Ukraine. The Senate Republicans will insist on it, including Mitch McConnell, who increasingly sees it as part of his legacy.

REICHARD: I want to turn now to another story we’ve been following on Thursday, Hunter Biden was indicted on three federal felony charges related to lying about his illegal drug use on an application to buy a gun. The prosecution earlier had first tried to get a plea deal to drop the gun charges if Hunter pled guilty to misdemeanor tax charges. So Hunter could have avoided jail time with that. But now with the felony charges, if he’s found guilty he could face 25 years and a $750,000 fine. What do you make of this development?

ERICKSON: You know, it's interesting in that there is an argument his team is making that this is unconstitutional. Essentially, for those who don't know, when you buy a gun, you fill out a form, and that form asks you questions, including about drug usage. And so they're essentially getting him for saying he didn't use drugs on the form and lying about it. And there's a question of constitutionality there. I do think however, the the prosecutors, by pushing this are showing they were willing to be reasonable with the deal that was rejected, and now they're going to go after everything. I suspect we'll get tax charges here shortly.

REICHARD: Well, when you consider that, that his father, President Biden has been pretty stringent on his rhetoric about the importance of gun laws and restricting gun use, do you think that factors into how this is being handled at all?

ERICKSON: Not on the Hunter Biden side, ironically, I mean, Hunter Biden could give second amendment advocates a huge win if this is declared unconstitutional, as his legal team seems to want. But as far as the prosecution goes, by charging him with this, it was somewhat nonsensical for them to avoid it to begin with, given the facts that are not in dispute in the case. By now doing this, of course, I mean, the Biden administration can say it goes aggressively, even against the president's own son. I'm not sure how far they'll be able to get with it, though I think the constitutional argument has merit.

REICHARD: Erick, I know you saw this but on Sunday, former President Donald Trump gave an interview to Kristen Welker of NBC’s Meet the Press. She’s the new host.

Along the way, Welker brought up late-term abortion saying falsely that they don’t happen. Trump pointing out what some Democrats have said about it. Then Welker asked Trump what he would do if handed a bill banning abortion at the 15-week point. Listen:

TRUMP: I would sit down with both sides and I’d negotiate something, and we’ll end up with peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years. I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t. I mean, DeSanctus is willing to sign a five-week and six-week ban.

KRISTEN WELKER: Would you support that? You think that goes too far?

TRUMP: I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.

REICHARD: Erick, it’s encouraging on the one hand to hear the former president continue to oppose late-term abortions, but what do you make of his assessment that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made a mistake in passing a 6-week ban?

ERICKSON: I think there is something troubling about the former president saying that heartbeat bans are a mistake, particularly because it didn't cost the Republicans in Ohio, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Florida, where these had been passed, but also his boldness to assert that he'll come up with a compromise that Democrats will be happy with a national ban on abortions. There will be no ban Democrats are happy about, and his desire to want to be liked by Democrats, will potentially undermine him. But also, I'm a little bit alarmed by a lot of pro-life activists who have not vocally spoken up in defense of these fetal heartbeat bans since he said it.

REICHARD: I want to talk more broadly about this now. This is the first Republican primary since the 1980s when Republicans don’t have the clear goal of overturning Roe v. Wade to rally around. How divisive do you think this issue will be going into primary season and where do you think the majority will land to draw the line?

ERICKSON: You know, I don't know how this plays out long term. The pro-life community has almost been the dog that caught the car, they're trying to avoid getting run over by it. Roe v. Wade has ended and now the left is united on supporting abortion rights and the right is very divided on do we leave it to the states, or do we have a national ban? The reality is as much as a 15 week ban probably does make sense as a maximum amount. You're not going to be able to get it through the Senate because the filibuster is there. So they probably do need to focus at the state level and try to find state solutions where some states that are more progressive like California will have more expansive abortion rights and conservative states like Florida will not.

REICHARD: Eric Erickson is an attorney, host of the Erick Erickson Show, and a WORLD Opinions contributor. Erick, love talking to ya!

ERICKSON: Thank you.

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