Thoughts about this crazy week in Washington DC

September 27th, 2023 by Tom Lynch

Who gets hurt in the looming government shutdown?

In December of 2018, President Trump and Democrats in Congress were at an impasse. Trump wanted $5.4 billion to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico; the Democrats didn’t.

Despite controlling both the House and the Senate, Trump and his Republican allies could not find enough votes to get his $5.4 billion. Consequently, Congress could not pass an Appropriations Bill to fund the operations of the federal government for the 2019 fiscal year, or a temporary continuing resolution that would extend the deadline for passing a bill. And so, on 22 December commenced the longest government shutdown in history—35 days. Nine federal Departments and three independent agencies, the EPA, NASA, and the Small Business Administration, were affected. The shutdown ended when Trump conceded and the 2019 Appropriations Bill was passed without any border wall.

This week in Washington, DC, we’re at it again. Only this time it’s worse. Far right factions of the Republican Party are carrying on a knock down, drag out catfight over federal funding. Congress has until Saturday night to pass a dozen appropriations bills funding the federal government for another year—or a short-term deal to extend funding while negotiations continue. It’s becoming more and more doubtful that either will happen. If a shutdown occurs it will affect all 15 federal departments, not just the nine of 2018. They will have no money to provide services, and most of the federal workforce, including the Armed Forces, will be furloughed, although essential workers will still report to work, but in an unpaid capacity. When the shutdown ends, the workers would receive retroactive back pay, but that doesn’t help those living paycheck to paycheck who need to pay rent and other monthly bills.

So, who will get hurt the most by this?

If you’re well off, it won’t be you.

The 2018 shutdown cost the nation’s economy an estimated $11 billion.  If a shutdown occurs now and  lasts a month, some estimates show fourth quarter annualized GDP growth decreasing by 1.5-2 percentage points, which would be particularly damaging considering the economy is only projected to grow at between 2.3 and 2.5 percentage points.

But I asked “who” will get hurt, and that would be people who can least afford it—primarily the poor.

The White House on Monday highlighted the risks to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, which is administered by the Department of Agriculture. Though there are contingency funds, those could be spent in a matter of days, jeopardizing the program that helps support the nutrition and food needs of low-income pregnant or breastfeeding women and infants and children up to 5 years old. Various states may have small contingency funds, but those would dry up after a day or two more.

In fiscal year 2022, WIC served about 6.3 million people each month, including about 39% of all infants in the United States. WIC provides nutritious foods, counseling on healthy eating, breastfeeding support, and health care referrals to low-income pregnant, , and breastfeeding individuals, infants, and children. 

The White House released a breakdown of the number of WIC recipients at risk of losing assistance in each state, with California (972,418), Texas (786,686) and Florida (421,294) topping the list.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told NPR’s Morning Edition that the “vast majority of beneficiaries will see an immediate cutoff” of WIC access, for most “within a matter of days.”

Depending on how long a potential shutdown lasts, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could be impacted too, Vilsack added. It would continue as normal only through October, according to the USDA.

The Senate is doing its best to avert the shutdown. Yesterday, it voted 77 to 19 to consider a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government open through Nov. 17.  The bill would prevent a shutdown and provide $6 billion in aid to Ukraine and $6 billion in disaster relief funds. But the process to pass the measure could take days, with no guarantee the House will schedule a vote on it. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is planning to take up a House continuing resolution (CR) that pairs funding the government with some spending cuts and border security measures. The House’s CR has no chance of being approved in the Senate.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy seems a puppet on a string and is being made to dance by a really far right minority of the far right Freedom Caucus. McCarthy sold his soul to these folks back in January when he gave away the family jewels, and anything else demanded of him, to achieve his life-long goal of the Speakership. He’s got it now, but for how long is anyone’s guess, given that it will only take one Member advancing a motion to “vacate the Chair” for him to more than likely lose the gavel. The Speaker, like so many hungry-for-power folks before him, has once again proven The Peter Principle¹ to be still sound, 54 years on. Kevin McCarthy has “risen to his level of incompetence” (although he may have done that a long time ago, but for now, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt).

It’s conceivable, but barely, that House Members in revolt could come to their senses before Saturday night, pass spending bills the Senate could agree with, and leave the floor with their heads held high. But that does not seem to be in their DNA. Their leaders crave attention, and they’re getting plenty of it. They all live in water-tight, compartmented steel boxes, their beliefs, opinions, and unbridled ambition cemented to the floor, never to be moved.


¹ Peter, Laurence J., and Raymond Hull. [1969] 1970. The Peter Principle. Pan Books.

But wait. There’s more!

Tonight, in California, at 9:00 pm EST, seven Republican candidates for President will take the stage  for their second primary debate—but Donald Trump won’t be one of them. He’s skipping the event to hold a rally in Detroit an hour earlier, at 8:00 pm EST, addressing a few hundred striking auto workers. The candidate debate will air live on Fox Business and Univision. Fox Nation will live stream Trump’s rally.

My guess is that former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley will emerge from tonight’s debate with wind at her back. Her pragmatic approach to the economy and focus on things that can actually happen will appeal to the middle-of-the-bell curve Republican voters. Other than that, she and the other six will throw out a bucketful of platitudes like red meat to the base “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

At his complaint-filled and platitudinous rally, Donald Trump is sure to mention four things:

  1. He will excoriate New York Justice Arthur F. Engoron who ruled yesterday that the former President committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets, and stripped him of control over some of his signature New York properties. The decision is a major victory for New York Attorney General Letitia James in her lawsuit against Mr. Trump, effectively deciding that no trial was needed to determine that he had fraudulently secured favorable terms on loans and insurance deals.
  2. He will spend a good deal of time griping that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen from him.
  3. He will whine about the rest of his legal troubles. You know, those four criminal indictments.
  4. He will dismiss the seven candidates about to chirp away in California.

His MAGA cult followers will eat it up.

And tomorrow, it’s on to impeaching Joe Biden

Instead of figuring out how to keep the federal government running for another year, tomorrow the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability will conduct a hearing titled, “The Basis for an Impeachment Inquiry of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.” Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said the hearing will “examine the value of an impeachment inquiry and present evidence House Republicans have uncovered to date regarding President Joe Biden’s knowledge of and role in his family’s domestic and international business practices.”

There are 25 Republicans on this Committee. It’s a who’s who of the rabble rousing element, featuring Jim Jordan, Nancy Mace, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, et al. The “Inquiry” will give these bomb-throwers the opportunity to do what they like doing best: lambast Joe Biden.

For the record, none of these patriots have criticized Donald Trump at any time throughout his criminal indictment-filled journey.