Radical right MAGA Republicans threaten a Friday government shutdown
"It is clear now that House Republicans need more time to sort themselves out," Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. | Mykola Tys/AP

WASHINGTON—Congress’s top leaders were scheduled to meet with Democratic President Joe Biden on February 27 as yet another government shutdown threat loomed again, for the third time in fewer than six months.

But even if they reach an agreement, their pact may be upset by the radical Republican MAGAites of the House Freedom Caucus. They again threaten to sink any spending legislation unless their extreme demands on so-called social issues are met.

Lawmakers were on recess for at least two weeks as the clock ticked down towards a partial government shutdown on March 2, or, since that’s a Saturday, March 1 in practical terms.

The shutdown would first close the departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and Veterans Affairs. The rest of the government would be shut a week later.  But “essential workers” would still be toiling on the job, but without pay.

All because Congress, thanks to Republican obstructionism, can’t agree on funding agencies for all of fiscal 2024, which began last October 1.

“We will once again face the specter of a harmful and unnecessary government shutdown caused by an extreme wing within the Republican Party,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., warned his colleagues in a February 26 letter. Schumer will be in the bipartisan talks with Biden.

Though they aren’t openly saying so, the corporate class and criminals within it are perfectly happy to see a shutdown of enforcement programs that force their firms to obey tax, environmental and labor laws. Those laws include the National Labor Relations Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

And even if a shutdown is averted at the last minute through another “continuing resolution,” the House Republicans’ draft money bill for the Labor Department and related agencies would cut the National Labor Relations Board by one-third—$99 million—and money for OSHA and other enforcement agencies by 18%. DOL and the National Labor Relations Board are part of the looming second section of the shutdown, on March 8.

The key player among the leaders is House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., who has shown virtually no ability to control the crazed right-wingers who cravenly follow former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, and who control the House GOP and who would shut the government to get their way.

“A shutdown would significantly hurt Americans, disrupt supply chains, hamper small businesses, upend services for our military and veterans, jeopardize health care for children and families, and much, much more,’ Schumer wrote.

It’s not academic, says Schumer

“This is not academic,” Schumer continued. Senate Republican leaders have worked in tandem with its Democrats on funding bills, Schumer said. The House is a different story.

“Unless (House) Republicans get serious, the extreme Republican shutdown will endanger our economy, raise costs, lower safety, and exact untold pain on the American people,” the senator said, giving examples ranging from VA health care, to food aid to the poor to air traffic control.

“We have many pressing issues ahead of us…and with Donald Trump still calling the shots for many in the Republican Party, these important tasks will not be easy to accomplish,” warned Schumer.

Johnson retorted by chiding Schumer for “counterproductive rhetoric.” But the Freedom Caucus’s own letter to Johnson, crowing about the social-issue provisions they demand in money bills, contradicts Johnson’s claim the House is working on legislative solutions to fund the agencies.

The Freedom Caucus would defund Planned Parenthood, eliminate the Job Corps—which helps retrain tens of thousands of people of color—and ban any federal agency from promoting, or even discussing, diversity, equity and inclusion. It would expand abortion restrictions through a ban on military funding servicemembers who must travel to from anti-abortion to pro-abortion states to get medical aid.

And the caucus would enact such a large cut in women’s infants and children’s food programs that states would be forced to choose who gets food and who doesn’t.

That’s just for starters.

A look at the report for the money bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education discloses not just the cut in NLRB and Labor Department enforcement money but an 80% cut in Title I aid targeted to schools with the highest shares—at least 40% of enrollment–of students from low-income families.

Left unsaid is those schools educate students of color, including in the nation’s largest cities. The chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee which helps dole out funds for those departments, Rep. Robert Aderholt of rural Alabama, uses federal funding for those city schools as a dog whistle.

The Labor-HHS-Education measure also eliminates federal funds to local school districts for teacher training and money for unspecified “organizations that seek to undermine the unity of our country.” Besides killing Title X family planning money—specifically targeting Planned Parenthood–the Republicans would eliminate money for teen pregnancy prevention.

They’d also shutter the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau and its Bureau of International Labor Affairs. That bureau, headed by former top AFL-CIO trade specialist and Deputy Staff Director Thea Lee,  has been winning cases against Mexican worker rights abuses and corporate interference there with the right to organize.

Johnson is also sitting on another Biden money bill request: $66 billion in supplemental military aid to Ukraine in its two-year war with Russia. That measure has bipartisan Senate backing.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.