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Déjà vu: Chaotic House takes government to the brink of shutdown

It’s eight days until the government funding expires, and the House of Representatives has quit work for the week. That’s after Speaker Mike Johnson had to yank another appropriations bill from the floor because it was too radical for one bloc of his conference to pass and not radical enough for the Freedom Caucus.

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If this sounds all too familiar, it’s because we lived through it a couple of months ago. Congress is exactly where it was the week before the previous government-funding cliff, at the end of September: hostage to the House Republican chaos. Then it was former Speaker Kevin McCarthy struggling to pass the defense and agriculture appropriations bills. Now it’s Johnson having to pull the transportation spending bill off the floor Tuesday and yanking the Financial Services and general government funding bill on Thursday.

The problem then and now is that leadership is letting the maniacs run the show. In the case of Thursday’s failure, it’s an abortion fight. The bill funds Washington, D.C., and has a provision that repeals the city’s policy that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who get abortions or use birth control. That’s too much for the non-maniacs in the House GOP who are “just sick of every appropriations bill being a vehicle for some off the wall abortion policy,” according to California Republican Rep. John Duarte. Once again, Johnson doesn’t have the votes to pass that bill.

While all those fights are continuing and the shutdown clock is ticking, Johnson still hasn’t presented a continuing resolution to fund the government after next Friday. It really is a replay of the chaos of September. The only differences are that the maniacs don’t have knives out for Johnson, and that someone with no leadership experience whatsoever is in the top job. Johnson seems to not have a clue how to do any of this, and to be listening to the worst people.

As far as anyone knows (and even his leadership team seems to be in the dark), Johnson is still pursuing the “laddered CR” idea, which would fund part of the government until mid-December and rest into January. Everyone but Johnson and the Freedom Caucus thinks this idea is ridiculous, including Senate Republicans. “I have a lot of reservations. I don’t see how that would work, and it seems unnecessarily complex,” Sen. Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, told Punchbowl News. “You’d have to go through the threat of shutdowns of part of [the] government over and over again. So, it doesn’t seem to me to make a lot of sense.”

The House GOP doesn’t even know for sure if that’s what Johnson intends to do, however. One member, “moderate” Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, told a Washington Post reporter that Johnson “will submit a plan [Thursday] that includes a ‘straight’ CR to fund the government, possibly coupled with a debt commission and aid for Israel.” That’s not to be confused with a “clean” CR, which would not include poison pills like a commission designed to cut Social Security and Medicare, or Johnson’s unacceptable Israel funding bill.

Johnson is tentatively planning a vote on Tuesday on whatever CR he comes up with, according to Punchbowl. That bill has to be ready by Saturday if the self-imposed Republican rule that every big bill has to be available 72 hours before it hits the floor holds. They break that regularly, so it’s probably not the overriding issue for Johnson. Actually having a plan that can pass is the bigger hurdle. That is, if he doesn’t want to force a government shutdown.

In the meantime, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer started the ball rolling on a CR in the Senate, getting ready to jam the House if necessary. “The only way, the only way—let me say it a third time—the only way we avoid a shutdown is with bipartisan cooperation,” Schumer said Thursday. “Just as it was true in September and it will be true in the future.”

“I implore Speaker Johnson and our House Republican colleagues to learn from the fiasco of a month ago,” he continued. “Hard-right proposals, hard-right slashing cuts, hard-right poison pills that have zero support from Democrats will only make a shutdown more likely.” It’s not likely Schumer’s words can penetrate the bubble in which Johnson operates, but he’s got to try.

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