By Jackson Richman and Mark Tapscott
Members of the Senate and House of Representatives face a Sept. 30 deadline as they each debate, amend, and approve 11 major spending bills before conference committees can be appointed to iron out differences between them, get them approved by both chambers, and then sent to the president for signature—all while House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) deals with the impeachment inquiry he announced on Sept. 12.
If they fail on any of the 11 measures, the government will be at least partially out of funds on Oct. 1 and technically be forced to shutdown. Few in the nation’s capital believe Congress will make that deadline. A shutdown would not stop the impeachment inquiry.
There are 12 spending measures in total, but the House passed one of them—appropriations for military construction and Veterans Affairs—in July.
An obscure provision found in each of the 11 remaining House bills may explain the pessimism.
The provision—entitled the “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA)—provides that “none of the funds provided by this Act, or previous appropriations Acts, shall be used in whole or in part to take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially, on the basis that such person speaks, or acts, in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief, or moral conviction, that marriage is, or should be recognized as, a union of one man and one woman.”
The amendment’s advocates like Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) argue the provision is needed to prevent civil liberties abuses such as those inflicted upon Michigan farmer Steve Tennes, who in 2016 posted on Facebook that due to his sincerely held Christian faith, his Country Mills Farm would not be available for same-sex marriages.
Tennes was booted out of the City of East Lansing’s annual farmers market despite the popularity of his produce and long participation in the event, specifically as a result of his stated views in support of traditional marriage. Tennes spent six years in litigation before a court upheld his First Amendment rights.
House Republicans included the provision but it is nowhere to be found in the Senate’s forthcoming bills. That means there will be immense pressure on House Republicans to compromise on an issue that for many of them is an uncompromisable principle. There are many Democrats in both chambers for whom same-sex marriage is a vital issue.
The dilemma facing Mr. McCarthy and other congressional leaders is that FADA is only one of dozens of provisions contained in Senate and House appropriations bills that all but guarantee a budget deadlock.
More notably, other contentious issues amid the spending fight include border security and further assistance to Ukraine, the latter of which has caused division within the Republican Party.
While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called for further aid to Kyiv, Mr. McCarthy has said he is for that but in exchange for improved border security by the Biden administration. The House earlier this year passed a border bill that has no chance of passing the Senate and that the White House has said President Joe Biden would veto if it came to his desk.
Both Mr. McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have admitted that Congress will need to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open past the Sept. 30 deadline.
A memo from the Republican Study Committee, the largest House GOP caucus—first reported by Fox News and obtained by The Epoch Times—calls on Mr. McCarthy to not allow a clean CR, which would continue to fund the government at current levels without any changes.
Senators offered standard responses when asked by The Epoch Times whether there should be negotiations on the thorny issues surrounding this appropriations saga.
“That’s just a part of the process. And so there has to be a negotiation, anytime you have a difference of opinion between the House members and the senate members,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).
“We expect that there will be a conference committee of some sort, and hopefully we’ll get it done in a timely fashion,” he continued. “The sooner the better.”
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) called for support for Ukraine and to secure the border.
“We’ve got to support Ukraine. I mean, this is an illegal invasion, where Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies have been murdering women and children,” he said.
“So I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Ukraine gets the funding and also we have a safe and secure border,” continued Mr. Kelly, who represents a border state. “I mean, we need border funding in Arizona. I mean, states that are on the front line deserve to have the resources to handle this problem.”
Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who previously served in the House, called for “a more well-discussed strategy on Ukraine rather than providing funding in excess of the amount that we’re providing for disaster aid to Maui, to Florida, and others.” She decried the White House request for $24 billion in additional Ukraine funding while there has been a request for disaster aid that is $10 billion less—all “while we specifically ignore our own southern border.”
“It’s not selling with the American people. I can’t sell that to my constituents,” she said. “So, I need more information if I’m going to support that kind of disparity between how we treat the illegal war that Russia has engaged in in Ukraine versus how we treat our own American citizens who are suffering.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called for a CR “to avoid a government shutdown, which would be catastrophic for our economy and for our military men and women who need to be paid.” He said a CR should include supplemental assistance for Ukraine, border security, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
Freedom Caucus Targeted
At the end of the day, the finger pointing has already begun as to who to blame if there is a government shutdown.
Numerous Senate Democrats told The Epoch Times that the House GOP would be to blame.
“They’re the only ones who have a significant element in their caucus advocating for it,” said Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), apparently referring to the hard line conservative House Freedom Caucus.
The House Freedom Caucus has said that it won’t support a CR if it doesn’t include the Secure the Border Act of 2023, which the House passed earlier this year; address “the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI”; and “end the left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon undermining our military’s core warfighting mission.”
“The House GOP is the only one that wants to shut the government down. Clearly the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, are passing [a] budget in regular order so we can keep the government open,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
“Democrats in the House are ready to pass a budget and keep the government open,” she continued. “It’s only House Republicans that are sticking the stick in the spokes.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the House GOP would “absolutely” be to blame if the government shuts down.
“We are working together in a bipartisan basis in the Senate,” she said.
“It’s for you to decide, but yeah,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
But Senate Republicans told The Epoch Times the House GOP would not be to blame in the case of a government shutdown.
“The GOP House is not to blame. For this Congress that has put our nation $32 trillion in debt, to ignore it and just say, ‘Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead, we’re going to keep spending at post-COVID levels,’ is completely ridiculous,” said Ms. Lummis.
“And I stand with House Republicans for trying to be financially responsible,” she continued.
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said that if the government shuts down, “it’s on the back of Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer. We’ve told them for months now we want regular order.”
Regular order means going through the committee process as opposed to bringing a bill straight to the Senate floor.
“Their budget has spent $2 trillion dollars more this year than we’ve taken in,” said Mr. Marshall. “We’re going to spend $700 billion this year on interest alone. We have to do something to bring this government spending under control.”
There were some senators not willing to play the blame game.
“It’s extraordinarily important that all sides work to prevent a shutdown,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told The Epoch Times. “I’ve seen those before and [it] would be a big mistake to go there.”
Mr. Kelly and Mr. Rounds also said it would be important to avoid a shutdown.
“Hopefully we will not have one,” said Mr. Rounds. “We’re going to do our best to avoid a government shutdown.”
That may be difficult, as Mr. McCarthy’s announcement about the impeachment inquiry has mollified some of his Republican critics.
But Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a Freedom Caucus member, said the spending fight and the impeachment inquiry are not connected.
“Him starting the impeachment inquiry gives him no—zero—cushion, relief, grace, as it applies to [the] spending battle,” he said.
Less than an hour after Mr. McCarthy’s impeachment inquiry announcement, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a Freedom Caucus member, took to the House floor to criticize the speaker.
“I rise today to serve notice—Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role,” said Mr. Gaetz, who cited the absence of votes on issues including balancing the budget and congressional roll calls.
“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,” he added.
Mr. Gaetz also warned that “Sept. 30 is rapidly approaching and you have not put us in a position to succeed.
“There is no way to pass all the individual appropriations bills now, and it’s not like we didn’t know when Sept. 30 was going to show up on the calendar.”