Don't expect any more appropriations bills to make it through the House chamber any time soon. Not until Republicans and Democrats work out issues on the Confederate flag. That was the message to members on Tuesday from Speaker John A. Boehner, according to Rep. John Fleming. Boehner reportedly told Republicans during their weekly closed-door meeting there was a hold on all spending bills until they could figure something out on the Confederate flag.
House Republican leaders tried to vote last week on a spending bill to fund the Interior Department, but it didn't turn out well. The measure included amendments on displaying Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and the sale of Confederate flag and national park gift stores, which caused an ugly fight, and which led GOP leaders to pull the bill altogether.
Soon after, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) appeared on a conservative radio show and got pretty worked up about the issue. "That was [the Democrats'] battle flag, not our battle flag, our battle flag was the stars and stripes with President Lincoln," Olson said. "[Democrats] have no credibility. Just shut up. Apologize now."
It's not altogether clear what the congressman wants Democrats to apologize for, but his over-the-top reaction is emblematic of an amazing breakdown in the legislative process that's currently underway. Roll Call reported yesterday afternoon:
Think about that for a minute. In 2015 -- a mere century and a half after the end of the Civil War -- the U.S. House of Representatives can't pass spending bills because of Confederate flags.
It's even raising the specter of a possible government shutdown. No, seriously.
The federal budgetary process can get a little confusing -- OK, more than a little -- but the basic structure is pretty straightforward. There are 12 appropriations bills that fund the government, each of which has to pass both chambers and get the president's signature to prevent a shutdown. Those 12 bills are often packaged together in one big spending bill popularly known as "omnibus."
The plan was for Congress to make real progress in July -- House Republicans intended to pass their version of all 12 spending bills this month -- before taking August off, and then returning to wrap up the process in September, before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
How many of the 12 bills has the House passed so far? Six, of which the Senate has passed zero.
July, of course, isn't over, but therein lies the rub: the House has stopped even trying to move forward on spending bills because of the argument over Confederate flags.
This in turn sets the stage for a very unpleasant September, in which lawmakers will have to scramble, not only to figure out what to do about the racially charged Civil War symbol, but to tackle spending bills that can pass the House and Senate, while facing very real veto threats from President Obama.
If it sounds like Confederate flags, in the 21st century, are making a government shutdown slightly more likely, that's largely because it's true.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters last week that there's no cause for alarm: since Republicans "control" Congress, he's "not worried" about a shutdown.
Remind me, which party was responsible for the government shutdowns in 2013 and 1995?