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Republicans might shut down the government... again

Conservatives have threatened to oppose a funding bill if their demands aren’t met.

Matt Gaetz, in a light gray suit, leans over the back of Jim Jordan’s chair and talks to him, in a congressional meeting room.
Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), left, talk during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, July 13, 2023.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

It’s that time of year, again: As a funding deadline fast approaches at the end of September, worries about a potential government shutdown are once more percolating in Washington, DC.

This year, those concerns are especially heightened given Republican control of the House, and the dissent within the GOP conference. Thus far, various factions — particularly conservatives — have issued threats about holding up government funding unless their demands over issues like a border wall, investigations into the Biden family, and Ukraine aid are met. Overall, the group of lawmakers putting funding in doubt is largely the same as those who previously said they’d reject a debt ceiling deal unless it contained significant annual spending cuts and reductions to social programs.

Currently, these members hold outsize power in the Republican conference since the GOP only has a narrow majority and can’t afford to lose more than a handful of votes. That margin could be further reduced due to upcoming absences. The Freedom Caucus — one of the key blocs with a hardline position on funding — keeps its membership private, but it’s believed to have roughly three dozen members and the ability to stymie bills if the bloc withholds its support.

As was the case with the debt ceiling, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy could try to build a coalition of House Republicans and Democrats in order to get the numbers he needs to pass the bill without conservatives, though attempting to do so would likely cost him future support. For now, Republican appetite for a shutdown is mixed since the party has historically been blamed when its members have caused them in 2019 and 2013.

[Related: Why does the US government shut down?]

The deadline to pass a funding bill is September 30, giving Congress just 11 working days to agree on a path forward. Both Democrats and Republicans have said they’ll try to advance a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, to keep the government open while lawmakers keep deliberating on full-year appropriations.

If McCarthy isn’t able to wrangle sufficient support from his caucus to approve this measure, the government could shut down in a few weeks.

Why conservatives are threatening government funding

Some of the House’s most conservative members are threatening funding bills because they’re must-pass measures that keep the government functioning, and offer key leverage to secure other policies they prefer.

When it comes to government funding, McCarthy is also navigating threats to his speakership. Because of a new House rule this term, a single House member is able to put forth a resolution to remove the speaker, though a majority of the House would have to vote in favor of doing so for it to actually happen. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has already suggested McCarthy be removed over delays in opening an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, and the speaker could face similar rhetoric as the budget fight escalates.

This time around, the House Freedom Caucus has released a list of their demands via an August statement, claiming that they’ll oppose any spending measure that fails to hit these requirements:

  • Passing the Secure the Border Act of 2023: This bill would restart construction of a wall along the country’s southern border and restrict access to asylum.
  • Addressing the alleged political weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI: Republicans have escalated their efforts in going after these agencies, and have weighed impeachment of officials like Attorney General Merrick Garland as well as funding cuts.
  • Combating what they claim are “woke policies in the military: Conservatives have aimed to push back on DEI initiatives run by the Defense Department and a policy that covers costs for service members who may travel for an abortion.
  • Opposing a “blank check” for Ukraine: As the Biden administration calls for $24 billion in additional aid for Ukraine and other international needs, a contingent of the Republican Party is increasingly pushing for more accountability around these funds and even opposing them altogether.

Others on the far right not in the Freedom Caucus have made additional demands. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said in August that she would not vote for any funding package without it coming alongside an impeachment inquiry into Biden. (Though she has also more recently said an inquiry shouldn’t be rushed.) And some, like Gaetz, have called for deep cuts to Ukraine aid that go beyond even the Freedom Caucus proposals.

The issue with all of these demands is that the House GOP isn’t on the same page about them. Furthermore, they won’t be warmly received in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Some would even be rejected by the Senate’s Republican caucus, which isn’t very open to defunding federal law enforcement or cutting Ukraine aid.

At the moment, McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have both said they’d be open to a continuing resolution until both chambers are able to agree on longer-term appropriations bills. Whether McCarthy can muscle through the votes for this measure, and hang onto his leadership position, will be a major question in the next month. If he fails to do so, the government would likely shut down.