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Even Republican 'moderates' reject plan to avoid shutdown, debt crisis

Despite occasional talk about Republicans having moderate and pragmatistic wings, zero GOP members voted for the stopgap spending bill.

By any fair measure, Congress has quite a bit on its plate. The deadline for the next government shutdown, for example, is a week from tomorrow. The deadline for the debt ceiling soon follows. Meanwhile, lawmakers need to approve emergency funding for disaster relief and provide funds to help resettle our Afghan allies.

The good news is, Democrats have crafted a straightforward bill that addresses each of these priorities: They unveiled a stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution (or CR), which would keep the government funded for a few months, extend the debt limit, and fund both disaster relief and Afghan resettlement. The bad news is, well, there's quite a bit of bad news.

At face value, the overnight developments on Capitol Hill represented a step toward a resolution. NBC News reported:

The House passed legislation Tuesday that would fund the government through Dec. 3 and extend the debt limit until after the 2022 elections. The party-line vote was 220-211, with no Republicans joining Democrats in supporting the bill.

The partisan division was no small detail. Despite occasional talk about the House Republican Conference having some moderates and pragmatists interested in governing, as the dust cleared on the House floor last night, literally zero GOP members were willing to support this uncontroversial solution to several pending problems.

Alas, it also represented legislative foreshadowing: The measure now heads to the evenly divided Senate, where Republicans have vowed to vote in lock step against it.

That wouldn't necessarily be a significant problem — there's a narrow Democratic majority that can pass bills in up-or-down votes — except GOP leaders continue to insist they will filibuster the legislation and prevent an up-or-down vote. The result is a familiar dynamic, from which Republicans will not budge:

  1. Congress must raise the debt ceiling to prevent a catastrophe.
  2. Republicans say Democrats must do this on their own.
  3. Republicans won't let Democrats do this on their own.

No one can say with confidence how this will end, though Senate GOP leaders did throw a bit of a curveball last night. The Hill reported:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) on Tuesday night offered a competing short-term government funding bill, just as House Democrats passed a stopgap measure that suspends the country's borrowing limit. The bill from McConnell and Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, does not include a debt ceiling suspension, reflecting the GOP push to divorce government funding from the looming brawl over the nation's borrowing limit.

In case this isn't obvious, many Capitol Hill watchers have suspected that one of three things will happen: 10 Senate Republicans will cave, allowing the Democratic bill to pass; Democrats will need to create a carve-out to the filibuster rules; or the United States will shut down the government and default on its debts.

McConnell and Shelby are pushing a different kind of package: It would do effectively everything the Democratic bill would do, except raise the debt ceiling. If Democrats were to accept such an offer — presumably sometime over the next eight days — there would be no shutdown, at least not before December.

The trouble, of course, is that Congress would still have to extend its borrowing authority. For McConnell and his GOP allies, isolating this fight would create new hostage opportunities for Republicans, while simultaneously forcing Democrats to explore new legislative solutions, perhaps even trying to add it to their pending budget reconciliation plan, which the GOP is eager to kill.

If anyone tells you they know how this ridiculous story will end, don't believe them. Instead, watch this space.