Opinion: It’s the policy disputes behind the government shutdown that should concern us most
By Erica Freeman and Marc Stier
There is a political answer and a policy answer. And from both perspectives, extremists in the Republican run House of Representatives, who have been encouraged by former President Trump, are responsible for the current crisis.
While far more attention is being given to the political answer, it is the policy disputes that should most concern us.
The political story starts with the House of Representatives. With Republicans only holding a nine-seat advantage over Democrats in the House, it takes only five Republicans voting “no” for the Republicans to be short of a majority not only to pass legislation but to even bring it to the floor for a vote.
And there are at least 10 or 20 Republicans who will vote against even considering budget appropriation bills or a continuing resolution—which would fund the government for a short period of time allowing for further negotiations—unless it contains both drastic cuts to federal spending and leaves out new military aid to Ukraine; and an addition to federal funds available for natural disasters.
But no such bill should or would pass the Senate where Democrats and Republicans have reached a consensus on a continuing resolution that does not cut spending and includes funding for Ukraine and natural disasters.
House Speaker McCarthy could secure enough Democratic votes to bring it to the floor and pass it. But he is unwilling to do so because he fears that compromising with Democrats would threaten his leadership of the House.
That’s the politics of it. It should be disturbing enough to see that a group of Republicans are holding the entire government hostage. And it is especially disturbing because, in doing so, they are rejecting the compromise budget plan that Speaker McCarthy negotiated with President Biden during the debt ceiling dispute, one that already cut federal spending and that almost all Republicans supported.
When we look, however, at the policy dispute, we should be even more concerned. Republicans—and not just a handful of extremists—have supported appropriations bills that seek to cut:
- the Title I education program by 80% undermining support for schools attended by students from low-income families;
- the Title II education program by 77%, which would undermine efforts to help schools hire more teachers, train teachers, and reduce class sizes;
- Head Start, which would reduce pre-school slots nationwide by 82,000 and roughly 3000 in Pennsylvania;
- the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that would eliminate over 850 agents and 1400 support staff;
- U.S. Attorney offices by 12% eliminating 1400 positions;
- Housing Choice Vouchers, which would cut funding for 20,000 households including roughly 800 in our state;
- job training and workforce development programs that serve 500,000 people including roughly 20,000 in Pennsylvania;
- the National Institute of Health by $3.8 billion, reducing funding for cancer and Alzheimer’s research and eliminating any research on long COVID;
- home electrification projects by $4.5 billion, which would have heled about 250,000 low- and moderate-income households, and about 10,000 in Pennsylvania to secure grants to upgrade their electric service and appliances, which would reduce their costs and greenhouse gas emissions; and
- the Inflation Reduction Act by $20 billion for clean technology projects especially in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
And Republican extremists stand apart from bi-partisan majorities that seek additional funding for Ukraine and to help Americans harmed by natural disasters.
These cuts would reverse policies that are supported by most Americans and were passed by bi-partisan majorities in both the House and Senate. Enacting cuts to law enforcement would make our communities more dangerous. Enacting cuts to the NIH would make us less healthy. Enacting cuts to education, job-training and housing programs would reduce the economic well-being and educational opportunities of low- and moderate-income Americans and Pennsylvanians. And enacting cuts to the Inflation Reduction Act would reverse the progress we are making in addressing climate change.
So this budget dispute is not just about politics. It’s about whether Republican extremists—who are a minority of members of Congress—can use their pivotal position in the House to implement policies only they support instead of what’s best for their fellow Americans.
And, ultimately, the dispute is about whether extremists on the right are willing to make the kinds of compromises which have been repeatedly necessary in our long history to enable the federal government to function. If they remain unwilling to compromise while in power, it is our democracy, not just this budget, that will be called into question.
Erica Freeman is deputy director of communications at the Pennsylvania Policy Center, a progressive think-tank in Harrisburg.
Marc Stier is Pennsylvania Policy Center’s executive director.