9 min read

What a shutdown would mean

As the spending deadline nears, a reminder of what a shutdown means and how we got here.
What a shutdown would mean
A scene from the 2013 shutdown. (National Parks Conservation Association)

Good morning: it’s Friday, September 29, 2023. The 2024 elections are 403 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

Breaking: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the longest-serving female senator in history, has died at age 90 after three decades in office. In her trailblazing career, Feinstein led San Francisco in the wake of an assassination, championed the Clinton-era assault weapons ban, and investigated the CIA’s post-9/11 torture practices.

The U.S. government is set to run out of funding at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday — less than 48 hours away.

A few reminders: This only refers to discretionary spending, the approximately 30% of the federal budget Congress has to approve each year. (Mandatory spending, on things like Medicare and Social Security, continues from year to year without Congress having to do anything.)

Traditionally, Congress approves new discretionary spending each year through the 12 appropriations bills, each of which covers certain portions of the budgetary pie (e.g. “Labor-Health and Human Services-Education,” “Commerce-Justice-Science,” etc.) However, the last time Congress passed all 12 appropriations bills by October 1 — when the federal fiscal year begins — was 1997.

Instead, lawmakers usually kick the can down the road a few times using continuing resolutions, better known as CRs, which keep the government running temporarily while negotiators are hashing out the 12 main bills.

So far, the House has passed four of the 12 appropriations bills for next fiscal year (three of which were passed last night). The Senate hasn’t passed any. At 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, the new fiscal year will begin; any discretionary parts of the government that haven’t been funded by appropriations bills or by a CR — which, right now, is all of them — will shut down.

During a shutdown, none of the federal government’s 4 million employees will be paid. About half of those are military personnel, all of whom will continue working without pay. The other half are civilian personnel, some of whom will be furloughed, which means they will be temporarily sent home from work; the rest have been deemed “essential” and will continue working without pay.

National parks will close. The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program will lose funding, meaning 7 million low-income mothers will go without nutrition assistance. Most air traffic controllers will report to work, but about 1,000 currently receiving on-the-job training will not, which could lead to flight delays. (Separately, the FAA is also set to expire at the end of the day Saturday, further complicating flights.)

The IRS won’t process most refunds or answer most calls. Some food safety inspections could be delayed. If the shutdown lasts longer than a month, food stamps will be impacted. (The last shutdown, in 2018-9, lasted for 35 days and was the longest in history.) Because they are funded by mandatory spending, Medicare and Social Security benefits will not be impacted.

OK, now we’re all caught up on what a shutdown means. What’s going on in Congress to prevent one?

  • The Senate is working on a bipartisan CR, which would fund the government until November 17 and authorize the FAA until December 31. The measure would keep current funding levels constant, while adding about $6 billion in Ukraine aid and about $6 billion in disaster relief.
  • The Senate CR advanced yesterday in a 76-22 vote. Unless all 100 senators agree, the measure can’t receive a final vote until Sunday, after the shutdown has begun. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has said he will only sign off on expediting the CR if the Ukraine funding is removed.
  • The House is set to vote today on its own CR, which would fund the government until October 31. The measure would slash funding for most agencies by about 30% (with exceptions for defense, homeland security, and veterans affairs) and institute new border restrictions. No Ukraine aid or FAA authorization is included.
  • If all Democrats vote against the CR, as expected, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will only be able to afford four GOP defections. At least seven House Republicans have said they plan to oppose the CR, which would doom its passage.

In sum: As the hours tick down, neither chamber of Congress is anywhere close to averting a shutdown.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) is working with a group of Senate Republicans to add border security measures to the Senate CR, in hopes of assuaging House Republicans. But so far, McCarthy says he has no plans to bring the bipartisan Senate CR up for a vote or to work with Democrats on a compromise. If he were to do so, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) would likely file a motion to vacate, triggering a vote on ousting McCarthy.

At that point, Democrats would have the choice of either helping throw McCarthy overboard or cutting a deal to save him. Some Republicans are already chattering about elevating House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) as McCarthy’s replacement.

Did anything get done this week?


Clearly, a lot is not happening on Capitol Hill like it should right now.  

But that doesn’t mean I still won’t take my weekly look at what is working — the bills and policies that actually are advancing through the government, despite the dysfunction.

Here’s your weekly report on congressional function:

🏦 The Senate Banking Committee approved the bipartisan SAFER Banking Act, which would give marijuana businesses access to banks and traditional financial services in states where marijuana is legal. Currently, these companies have to operate as cash-only businesses, increasing the likelihood of tax evasion and criminal activity. The panel approved the bill 14-9, with 11 Democrats and three Republicans in favor and one Democrat and eight Republicans opposed.  

🇺🇦 The House approved a bipartisan bill providing $300 million in Ukraine aid after the assistance was stripped out of a larger defense appropriations bill due to Republican opposition. The standalone measure passed 311-117, with 101 Republicans and all 210 Democrats in favor. The bill now heads to the Senate.

🎯 Both chambers of Congress passed the bipartisan Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act, which specifies that government funds can be used for extracurricular archery and hunting programs in schools. The measure passed unanimously in the Senate and 424-1 in the House. The Biden administration had been trying to use last year’s bipartisan gun control bill to stop funding from flowing to such programs, angering the measure’s original drafters.

🧬 The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bipartisan Debbie Smith Act, which would reauthorize through 2029 a program that provides funding for law enforcement agencies to analyze untested rape kits. Rape kits allow law enforcement to collect DNA evidence that can help identify rapists; however, it can take months or even years for the evidence to be analyzed in a lab. The program this bill reauthorizes aims to combat this backlog; it has directly funded more than 1.79 million DNA analyses since 2004. The measure is named for a sexual assault survivor who waited five years for the DNA evidence in her rape kit to be analyzed.

🏥 President Biden signed the bipartisan U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network Act into law. For nearly 40 years, the non-profit UNOS has had a monopoly on the nation’s organ transplant system. But after a Senate investigation found that UNOS errors led to 70 deaths last year, this bill will allow for control of the transplant system to be split among several for-profit and non-profit groups, which will compete with bids to run the new system. The measure passed both chambers of Congress unanimously this summer.

👔 The Senate unanimously passed the SHORTS Act, instituting a formal dress code requiring men to wear “a coat, tie, and slacks or other long pants” on the Senate floor. The resolution was approved in response to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s loosening of the — previously informal — Senate dress code to accommodate Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), who prefers to wear shorts and a hoodie. Following backlash, Fetterman agreed to wear a suit on the floor and assented to the new dress code’s passage.

Plus, here’s what the Biden administration did this week:

🛜 The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took the first steps toward restoring net neutrality, the Obama-era rule that blocks internet service providers from speeding up or slowing down traffic to specific websites. Under net neutrality, internet service is treated as a public utility, like water or electricity. The rule was repealed under the Trump administration; this week’s move is a provisional step toward bringing it back.

🛍️ The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) partnered with 17 state attorneys general — 15 Democrats and two Republicans — to sue Amazon for antitrust violations. The lawsuit alleges that the company has used illegal anticompetitive practices to become an online retail monopoly.

🇮🇱 Israel became the 41st country added to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which means Israeli citizens will be allowed to enter the U.S. without a visa. The move, which followed years of bipartisan pressure, came as part of a broader deal with Israel, which will grant the same freedom to American citizens, including Palestinian Americans.

📚 President Biden announced plans for the McCain National Library to be built at Arizona State University in honor of the late Sen. John McCain. The new 80,000-square-foot library will feature McCain’s Senate papers and sponsor programs related to democracy and national security. The project will be funded with $83 million from the American Rescue Plan, the Covid stimulus package passed by Congress in 2021.

🙏 As part of the new National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, the Biden administration debuted a new interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that will prohibit federally funded programs from engaging in antisemitism and Islamophobia. This is the first time the federal government has declared in writing that Title VI of the law — the provision that addresses federal programs — applies to those forms of discrimination. The title does not explicitly invoke religion, mentioning only discrimination on the basis of “race, color, or national origin.”

🏝️ The U.S. formally recognized Niue and the Cook Islands and established diplomatic relations with the two countries, which are both located in the South Pacific Ocean.

More news to know.

Trump $250M fraud trial will go forward Monday, AG plans to call his adult sons as witnesses / ABC

The Supreme Court will decide if state laws limiting social media platforms violate the Constitution / AP

Biden impeachment hearing gets off to sputtering start / Axios

Trump unexpectedly says he won't seek to move his Georgia election case to federal court / NBC

Comer subpoenas personal, business bank records for Hunter Biden, James Biden as part of impeachment inquiry / Fox News

Second GOP debate ratings: Viewership drops by more than 25 percent / Politico

Alarmed Republicans are preparing to draft Glenn Youngkin / WaPo

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden will deliver remarks at a farewell tribute in honor of Gen. Mark Milley, whose last day as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is tomorrow.

Senate: The upper chamber is set to vote on two U.S. attorney nominations. A vote advancing the CR is dependent on a time agreement.

House: The lower chamber will vote on its proposed CR, which does not currently have enough Republican support to pass.

Before I go...

Here’s a fun story on bipartisanship to close off the week: The Senate gym has long been cited as fostering its share of bipartisan relationships, as lawmakers get to know each other while working out.

Now, the Dirksen Senate Office Building has a pickleball court — and the Senate has a bipartisan Pickleball Caucus, allowing lawmakers to build their relationships across party lines over a quick match.


Senate pickleball caucus leaves politics off the court
Some bipartisan senators are picking up paddles and trying out America’s fasting growing sport as a way to build relationships. They’re trading partisan barbs for friendly competition.

Thanks for reading.

I get up each morning to write Wake Up To Politics because I’m committed to offering an independent and reliable news source that helps you navigate our political system and understand what’s going on in government.

The newsletter is completely free and ad-free — but if you appreciate the work that goes into it, here’s how you can help:

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.‌‌‌‌

Thanks so much for waking up to politics! Have a great day.‌‌‌‌

— Gabe