Still No Way To Govern

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was captured using a prism) House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks with members of the media in the U.S. Capitol on September 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. T... WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was captured using a prism) House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks with members of the media in the U.S. Capitol on September 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. The government is expected to enter a shutdown at midnight if a last-minute budget deal is not reached by the House on Saturday. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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At long last Kevin McCarthy came to his senses – or at least saw no other path.

With less than a day to go before the federal government was due to run out of funding, McCarthy put forward what appears to be a mostly clean continuing resolution to extend funding at 2023 levels for 45 days.

It was a surprise reversal, a stunning one even.

The day dawned with virtually no realistic hope of avoiding a shutdown. McCarthy’s rejection of his far-right members caught everyone off-guard and left Democrats flat-footed (so much so that one Dem member pulled a fire alarm to try to buy more time for them to review the new CR before it came to a rushed vote).

But there was one more procedural wrinkle: McCarthy bypassed normal procedure in bringing the 45-day CR to the floor, so it required not a simply majority but a two-thirds majority to pass, meaning he needed substantial help from Democrats to get it over the finish line. After huddling for a time, Democrats decided to to embrace it, and it passed 335-91.

The CR now heads to the Senate, which seems prepared to pass it on an expedited schedule. Even if the Senate is delayed a bit, any shutdown at this point would be nominal, for a few hours or a day or two, at most.

So crisis averted. Sort of. But not really.

This continues to be a maddening and indefensible way of governing. Damage has already been done to government departments and agencies forced to prepare for a shutdown, costing enormous time, resources, and money. Government workers have been needlessly traumatized by the prospect of extended furloughs. Time that could been spent actually negotiating longer-term agreements on funding and policy has been wasted with legislative hostage-taking. I could go on, but you get the point by now.

One notable policy impact of all this: Supplemental Ukraine aid was not included in the CR. That had been a sticking point for Democrats and Senate Republicans, but at this late stage they seem content to come back to that issue later on.

As for McCarthy, who knows what finally tipped the scale for him to rebuff his right flank. It should be noted that there was nothing on the horizon that suggested a shift in the power dynamics that would break the fever of the House Freedom Caucus. So once House Republicans sent us over the cliff into a shutdown, it wasn’t obvious how it would ever get resolved. There was no plan. Perhaps McCarthy saw that, too.

The result for McCarthy is to dare Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) or some other bomb-thrower to take his gavel away. But the House Freedom Caucus doesn’t have a plan either. Maybe McCarthy saw that, too.

Needless drama, posturing in place of governing, doing damage to institutions and norms for the sake of it. It’s old hat for Republicans now. It’s been tiresome for the rest of us for a long time.

You’d like to think that with McCarthy having finally bucked his hostage-taking members, there’s an easier path ahead to a long-term funding deal before the 45-day CR runs out. Maybe. But nothing has been easy for McCarthy.

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