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Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) speaks at the Capitol in Washington, July 25, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The federal government could soon face another damaging shutdown if Congress does not act quickly. But a group of 30 far-right House Republicans is demanding massive spending cuts and social policy changes in exchange for approval of appropriations legislation.

In addition to halting vital government services such as safety inspections and veterans’ programs, government shutdowns leave federal employees without a paycheck and typically cause billions of dollars in damage to the nation’s gross domestic product.

Congress was supposed to pass 12 appropriations bills by Sept. 30, 2023, for the current fiscal year. However, amid Republican party infighting and disarray, the GOP-led House of Representatives has not approved all of its bills, nor has it agreed with the Democratic-led Senate on the rest. Instead, Congress has adopted stopgap legislation, known as continuing resolutions, to avoid federal shutdowns. The most recent continuing resolution was enacted in January and provides funding for some agencies until March 1 and others until March 8.

Rather than complete the appropriations process or adopt another continuing resolution, House Republicans spent the past few weeks impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas with no evidence of any crimes and then sent members home for a recess from Feb. 15 to Feb. 28.

In a Feb. 22 letter obtained by Punchbowl News, the House Freedom Caucus told House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) he must keep conservative social policy riders in any appropriations agreements and suggested that without them, they’d prefer a yearlong continuing resolution that slashed all federal spending by $100 billion across the board, equivalent to about 6% of last year’s total discretionary spending.

The letter’s signatories included Montana Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale, a member of the caucus.

“We request an update on the appropriations negotiations including, but not limited to, the provisions supported by overwhelming majorities of Republicans and our constituents,” the group wrote, noting 21 policy riders that had been included in House GOP appropriations proposals.

One was to “Defund the Pentagon’s illegal abortion travel fund,” which would eliminate a 2022 Defense Department policy that provides service members with time off and travel reimbursement if they need to access out-of-state abortion care.

A second would eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides birth control and cancer screenings for millions of Americans and offers abortion care that is not paid for by federal grants.

Another would “Defund Biden’s radical ‘Green New Deal’ climate change actions such as the EPA Electric Vehicle mandate, DOT’s CAFE standards, EPA’s anti-power plant rules, and each of the President’s radical ‘climate’ executive orders.” 

Congress has not enacted the Green New Deal, a 2019 proposal to boost federal investment in climate change mitigation and other public works projects. It did pass the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which approved federal investments in clean energy and climate change infrastructure. House Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal that law as well as to repeal measures that regulate greenhouse gasses.

Other riders would prohibit expanded background checks for those purchasing guns and “red flag” laws that temporarily remove firearms from those judged to be an imminent danger to themselves or others; end President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness programs; limit health care for people who are transgender; and halt construction of a new FBI headquarters.

“There are MANY other policies and personnel that Congress should not be funding, and a failure to eliminate them will reduce the probability that the appropriations bills will be supported by even a majority of Republicans,” the Freedom Caucus wrote, noting that the last stopgap bill passed with only about half of House Republicans in support.

“If we are not going to secure significant policy changes or even keep spending below the 

caps adopted by bipartisan majorities less than one year ago,” it concluded, “why would we proceed when we could instead pass a year-long funding resolution that would save Americans $100 billion in year one?”

The Freedom Caucus has been pushing for a yearlong continuing resolution with significant across-the-board spending cuts for a while, contradicting bipartisan agreements made in May 2023 by then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and this January by Johnson.

“Our message should be clear: House Republicans will combat inflation and the woke and weaponized federal bureaucracy by securing gimmick-free spending cuts and conservative policy riders through the passage of individual appropriations bills,” caucus policy director Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) wrote in a Nov. 28, 2023, op-ed published in the Washington Examiner. “If we face resistance from Democrats or even our own Appropriators, Speaker Johnson should automatically trigger FRA [the Fiscal Responsibility Act debt ceiling agreement] spending cuts by defaulting to a CR that expires on September 30, 2024.”

In December 2023, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) said, “A date-change, full-year CR as proposed by House Speaker Johnson, would be unprecedented and reckless,” warning, ““We are talking about missing opportunities on issues where the clock is ticking, pulling the rug out from families who are struggling, and undermining our national defense and security in front of the whole world.”

The top Republican Senate appropriator, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, said in a November 2023 speech, “A year-long continuing resolution would simply fail to provide the resources needed to protect our nation.”

Axios reported on Feb. 20 that House Republicans are saying privately that they expect a government shutdown will take place.

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