The last-minute strategy shift by House Republican leadership to pass an extension of current funding (through a 45-day continuing resolution) was the not-so-secret sauce needed to prevent a government shutdown and provide more time to solidify a long-term funding solution. There is a lot to learn from this most recent brinkmanship, but there is even more uncertainty around what happens next, if a solution is any more possible in 45 days than it was now, and how internal politics (especially among Republicans) drives a new strategy forward.
Here are five key takeaways from this most recent funding extension that may inform what happens when this continuing resolution expires:
What We Just Witnessed is the New Legislative Process: The trends around last-minute solutions have been building over the last decade and we should probably stop being surprised when major policies with deadlines are not solved until they absolutely have to be. It is, unfortunately, the new way of doing business. And, as long as narrow majorities exist, small groups of policymakers will continue to drive the discussion and, to some degree, the overall agenda. The most recent CR solution was largely the same exact playbook as the debt ceiling debate – fight internally and pivot to a bipartisan solution at the last minute. It’s not quite the Hollywood version of DC, but it is a bipartisan solution nonetheless. Expect more of this model…in 45 days.
House Republican Leadership Challenges Are Inevitable: The portion of the Freedom Cacucus that were largely the hurdle to moving a continuing resolution in the first place have promised to leverage House rules to file a motion to effectively recall the Speaker. It was only a matter of time before the need to govern and the need to placate various portions of the Republican conference reached a boiling point. While this is just another distraction that both the Speaker and his conference do not need right now, the inevitability of such an effort is better to come to fruition now than closer to the 2024 election. The big question here is whether Democrats will play a role in protecting the Speaker or whether they see a political advantage in sitting this one out – likely the latter.
Expect Divisions to Increase, Not Go Away: The level of frustration among policymakers is only likely to grow in the months ahead. This is not only the case among House Republicans, but also between both parties and between the House and Senate. The blame game is just beginning and is unlikely to end any time soon. As the election nears, policymaker factions will become more aggressive in pushing their agenda (both policy and political) and both sides of the Capitol will become more desperate to close-out these politically sensitive issues before they become a liability on the campaign trail.
House Democrats Become an Unusual Power Player: Traditionally, there is no entity with less power in Washington, DC, than the House minority, which lacks any control of committees, the House floor, the legislative agenda, or even the rules of the House. Unlike the Senate where the minority has the ability to block legislation from moving, the House minority has few (if any) real tools to leverage. However, the mix of a very small majority and internal Republican division has given House Democrats an unusual position of power and influence. Instead of being triangulated out of the discussion, they are now helping to drive the discussion.
Bipartisan Work Still Happening in Congress: While the narrative in the press is exclusively focused on all the divisions in Congress and the historic level of partisanship, there is a lot of work being done across the political aisle that goes somewhat unnoticed. For all those issues that are not “above the fold,” well-intentioned policymakers are working together to move priorities forward. As long as the issues stay out of the bright lights, this is unlikely to change.
For those watching the recent CR debate and wondering what happens next, do not forget that there is a significant amount that remains on the table. In addition to the need for a funding solution by November 17th, several other major priorities need to be negotiated and finalized this year (including the National Defense Authorization Act and Ukraine funding). Expect more fireworks and even some last-minute solutions.