They have the leverage – but will they use it?
With midterms just around the corner, much has been said about what the GOP might accomplish next year with control of the House, Senate, or even both. But there’s another way for Republicans to push their issues that doesn’t require a red wave in November or waiting for the new Congress to take the reins – and at least one House Republican is very aware of it. The fiscal year is at its end, and the approved funding required to keep the government running will dry up Friday, Sept. 30. Forget the midterms – as far as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is concerned, his party can and should use the looming shutdown to demand border security now.
Border Security and Leverage on the Leviathan
Government shutdowns are expensive and inefficient; rarely do they help more than hinder – but even more damning, they make those in power look bad to the common folk. No one wants to be the one in charge when it’s time to dole out blame, and so this time of year brings with it an opportunity for the minority party to get some concessions from the majority.
Any time the government shuts down, the narrative war kicks into overdrive. Who is to blame? That depends on which side is doing the talking. But when the dust settles, it’s usually the president who’s remembered afterward. The longest federal shutdown to date was December 2018-January 2019, 35 days. Who was commander-in-chief at the time? Donald Trump is the name that springs to mind. Which party held the majority in each chamber, and who were the players involved in holding up funding? Quite likely, very few actually recall – if they knew in the first place.
According to former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, the best thing for Republicans is to focus on Joe Biden’s border crisis by refusing the funding bill unless it includes an amendment to address the issue. They must, however, also make certain that any continuing resolution (CR), passed to keep things running long enough for another agreement, expires before February, so as to avoid limiting any incoming GOP majority.
McCarthy is clearly on the same page. He advised his fellow House Republicans to vote against any government funding bill that doesn’t address the surge in illegal immigration. “Under Biden and [Nancy] Pelosi there have been more than 3.5 million illegal border crossings – more than the entire population of Chicago,” McCarthy said. “Democrats’ open border policies have led to an unprecedented crisis, and they have no plan to secure the border. If Biden [and the] Democrats don’t use this government funding bill to address the border crisis immediately, I’m voting NO on this bill and I urge my colleagues to do the same.”
Is the Senate on Board?
The Senate votes today (Sept. 27) on a stopgap funding measure to avoid shutdown and kick the can down the line – past the midterms, of course – into December. But in the upper chamber, the spotlight shines not on the border but on an energy bill. In order to get the votes to pass the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promised Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) a must-pass piece of legislation – before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 – to mandate that federal environmental reviews be completed faster. Manchin calls his proposal, which would speed up the permitting process for renewable projects like wind and solar as well as non-renewable ones like oil and gas, “the kind of balanced and all-of-the-above energy approach America needs if we are to defend this nation’s energy security from those who seem hell-bent on weakening it.”
Progressives are entirely against it, of course, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has declared he won’t support any government-funding CR (continuing resolution) that includes the Manchin proposal. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is pushing Republicans to vote against Manchin’s reform, but for different reasons. As he sees it, the plan simply isn’t strong enough to move the Biden administration on permitting. Instead, he wants more backers for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV) version.
With Manchin’s energy legislation up in the air thanks to both Republican and progressive Democrat opposition, it’s unclear where the gentleman from West Virginia and his allies will fall on the CR itself. But in fighting over two similar bills regarding the government permitting process, are Senate Republicans ignoring the greater opportunity? McCarthy can demand border security until he’s blue in the face, but even with the full backing of his party in the House, he can’t stop Democrats from passing whatever bill they want. The real leverage lies in the Senate: Will McConnell and his colleagues wield it?