- - Monday, September 6, 2021

Lost in the mess that is the Biden administration and its enablers in Congress – the threat posed by inflation, the crisis at our southern border, the endless debasement of the public health community, the desperate attempt by socialists to spend $3.5 trillion more of your money, the unwise infrastructure bill, and lethal and avoidable disaster in Afghanistan — is the fact that Congress has yet to pass appropriations for fiscal 2022.

That is an important detail. The federal government runs out of legal authority to spend money on Sept. 30, which is a little more than three weeks from now.  If appropriations legislation is not passed by that date, the federal government shuts down (sort of).

Unfortunately, the Democrats who run Congress and the executive branch are busy negotiating among themselves about how much of your money they want to spend on reconciliation.  Some want to go for the whole $3.5 trillion; others would be content with as little as $1.75 trillion of your cash.

Fortunately, Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, froze some of that nonsense last week when he wrote a column arguing for a “strategic pause” before the Democrats proceed to vote to drive your children deeper into penury.  There is no telling what a “strategic pause” might mean, but anything that slows this particular train down has to be a good idea.

It also gives the Republicans in Congress a moment to think about what they should do next.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been clear that no Republicans will vote to increase the debt ceiling, which will need to be suspended or raised probably sometime between October and December.  Now is time for equal clarity about Republican intent concerning the looming government “shutdown.”  

In the absence of Republican votes, Democrats would need to go back and amend the budget resolution that kicked off the reconciliation process. They would need to include appropriations for 2022 in the reconciliation.

That will almost certainly mean setting aside the more egregious provisions in the reconciliation.  Or voting for about $10 trillion in spending and increasing the debt ceiling all at once and hoping for the best.

The process would take some time, perhaps too much time to avoid a shutdown, but it can be done.  It would be especially problematic on the House side since they will not return from recess until Sept. 20.  But unless the Republicans smooth the path by playing along, the majority party will have little choice.

It would look bad if the Democrats pass a reconciliation package that is not much more than a batch of collectivist nonsense but fails to produce a budget and fund the government they control. It will look awful in the wake of President Biden’s Homeric incompetence in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the Democrats steamrolled the Republicans on the earlier $1.9 trillion “COVID-19 relief” legislation. They are trying their best to run them over on the current $3.5 trillion reconciliation.

The Republicans made a mistake by supporting the infrastructure legislation. They are choosing a better course by keeping their fingerprints off the increase in the debt ceiling. They need to resist the impulse to help the Democrats on appropriations as well.

Many Republicans still believe that the government shutdowns in 1995-96, 2013 and 2018-19 damaged the party in subsequent elections.  Maybe, maybe not.  There is no actual data that suggests that the shutdowns altered any voting patterns.

However, a shutdown at this moment would expose the Democrats as incapable of running the government they control.

If Republicans are determined to help Democrats, they should at least negotiate a hard bargain. The real problem with the infrastructure “deal” is that the Republicans got nothing for it. No completion of the border wall. No Keystone XL pipeline. No oil and natural gas leases. No hard line on cutting the supply chains from communist China.  They didn’t even get the revenue neutrality they were promised: The legislation would add $400 billion to the debt.

Given the Republicans’ recent track record on negotiation, the right answer is to make the Democrats own the appropriations and shutdown mess. Vote no on 2022 appropriations, the debt ceiling and motions to proceed to either one.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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