ND’s Armstrong reluctant to consider federal government shutdown

Courtesy: U.S. House of Representatives Office of Kelly Armstrong
Courtesy: U.S. House of Representatives Office of Kelly Armstrong

North Dakota Congressman Kelly Armstrong says House Republicans are hoping to avoid a government shutdown in the coming weeks, but there is no assurance that the necessary compromises will be reached.

The first four spending bills relating to Agriculture, Military Construction and the Veterans Administration, Energy and Water, and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) expire on March 1st.  The other 8 funding measures expire March 8th. 

It’s been widely speculated that another short-term stopgap option, called a continuing resolution, or CR will be passed in order to maintain the budgets of those agencies at current spending levels until mid-March.  It would be the fourth such measure passed since September 30th, when the last fiscal year ended.

Armstrong, in an interview with the McKenzie County Farmer and KTGO Radio (Tioga), says the timetable is short and that lawmakers are under the gun. 

“On March 1st, 30% of the government would shut down, and then on March 8th the remaining 70% would.  We’ve been through this now a couple times, and I get the feeling that the vast majority of the members of Congress are not interested in a government shutdown, but I can tell you that (leaders are) working furiously to get there.  It’s not 100% that we won’t have a shutdown, but I’d be surprised if we do.”

The 12 funding bills are expected to total more than $1.7 trillion.  Spending negotiations provide an opportunity for both sides of the aisle to dig in their heels about issues they are passionate about.  Republicans are currently under pressure from their constituents to tie any funding extensions to additional security measures at the U.S. – Mexico border, while Democrats hope to gain additional funding for Ukraine and Israel.

The Washington Post reports that House Speaker Mike Johnson (La.) told members of his Republican conference Friday, February 23rd that some elements of the spending bills are “not home runs and grand slams,” but carried plenty of wins on policy and spending cuts with which the GOP should be pleased.

“I don’t think anybody on this call thinks that we’re going to be able to use the appropriations process to fundamentally remake major areas of policy,” Johnson said. “But we will be able to secure a number of policy victories that severely undermine the Biden administration’s programs and objectives.”

Not all Republicans have been pleased with the process to this point, specifically the House Freedom Caucus, a band of GOP fiscal hawks who have called on the speaker to shut down the government unless he can win spending cuts or conservative policy provisions.  The Freedom Caucus has called for 21 specific demands, including policies to eliminate Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s salary, block key components of President Biden’s climate agenda, and cut off funding for the World Health Organization and several U.N. relief agencies.

Armstrong says he supports many of these things, but digging in your heels can only get you so far.

“I agree with you that we have to fight.  But you have to be able to win that fight.  I can take the lumps but all you need are 3 Republicans to take the other side and you’re done.  You can’t cut enough out of these non-defense appropriations bills for me.  We’re $34 trillion in debt.  But the problem is the second you (cut spending for non-defense), you don’t have a single democrat vote and I can do math.  Would I vote for that?  100% of the time.  Do we have enough votes for that?  We absolutely do not.”

Still the game of chicken is one that some House Republicans are willing to play.

“If the Democrats know, and they do, that we will not risk a government shutdown, then all they have to do is say no to whatever we ask for, and then we’re going to surrender, because we won’t suffer government shutdown. That is the bottom line,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), chair of the Freedom Caucus, told The Post. “The only leverage you have when you only control one house is to refuse to make a deal and to refuse to fund the government under the conditions at which the Democrats are demanding that you fund it. Don’t give Biden the money for the policies that you disagree with. And we’re not willing to do that, apparently.”

North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer was one of only 18 Senators to vote against the most recent continuing resolution, saying “we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back for doing the bare minimum. The American people deserve better than this mayhem, passing one stopgap bill after another. Congressional leaders need to get their act together and recognize our responsibility to govern.” 

Both the House and Senate have tight schedules on the last days of February.  Senators must deal with the House’s articles of impeachment against Alejandro Mayorkas, the Federal Homeland Security Secretary, and the House does not return to session until Wednesday, February 28th.