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Why the Republican plan to prevent a government shutdown is doomed

The good news is that House Republicans have a plan to prevent a shutdown. The bad news is that it's an awful plan that can't pass either chamber.


House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has spent the year struggling to complete even basic governmental tasks, in part because so much of his conference is radicalized, and in part because his majority is so small.

As of a week ago, the House GOP conference had 222 seats out of 435. In a cohesive party with a shared vision, that total wouldn't necessarily be a recipe for failure. In fact, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s conference was exactly the same size in the last Congress, and she advanced all kinds of landmark legislation.

But for Republicans, it’s a very different story. Because it takes 218 votes to pass anything, McCarthy and his leadership team have spent the year struggling with the legislative arithmetic: GOP leaders could lose no more than four members on any given vote. As of now, that number is down to three: Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah stepped down last week, lowering the total number of GOP members in the House to 221.

It’s against this backdrop that party leaders realize that there’s a government shutdown deadline next week, and the House speaker isn’t quite sure what to do about it. The obvious solution — a temporary stop-gap spending measure — has sparked intense opposition from far-right members, leaving McCarthy with limited options, especially given the partisan margins.

The good news is that some Republicans have negotiated a spending bill that would, at least theoretically, prevent a shutdown. The bad news is that there is no other good news. NBC News reported overnight:

Key factions of the House Republican Conference reached a tentative agreement Sunday to keep the government funded temporarily and avert a shutdown scheduled for the end of the month, pairing it with a conservative border security measure, multiple GOP sources with knowledge of the agreement said.

If you’ve seen coverage characterizing this as some kind of “compromise,” that’s not quite the term I’d recommend using. It was a deal some Republicans struck with even-more-conservative Republicans. It’s not as if GOP negotiators reached out to the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the hopes of getting their input on a bipartisan package.

But if there’s a House agreement in place, at least it will move us away from the shutdown cliff, right? Wrong.

First, the deal Republicans reached with themselves is so far to the right that it will never pass the Democratic-led Senate or receive President Joe Biden’s signature. It not only calls for deep spending cuts — beyond what was agreed to in the debt-ceiling agreements earlier this year — it also includes far-right immigration measures from the party’s Secure the Border Act.

The fact that GOP members are trying to advance this bill, knowing full well that it will inevitably fail, leads to a simple truth: This isn’t a plan to avoid a shutdown; it’s a plan to avoid blame for a shutdown.

Second, as conservative as this “deal” is, it’s apparently not good enough for many far-right members. As Politico reported this morning, “[O]pposition came fast and furious Sunday night after the package was pitched to rank-and-file Republicans in a conference call. More than a half dozen GOP lawmakers are already saying they’re a no vote on the bill aimed at averting a government shutdown.”

Remember, House leaders can lose no more than three members on any given bill. As of a few hours ago, at least eight Republicans in the chamber said they intend to vote against it.

In other words, with time running out, the House GOP has a bad bill it can’t pass, and which Republicans already know won’t clear the Senate.

The deadline is Sept. 30 at midnight. Watch this space.