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D.C. Download: The $1.59 trillion question

Can Congress avoid a partial government shutdown?
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
CongressD.C. DownloadGovernment

Happy new year, Nevada! Let's kick 2024 off with a familiar topic … the risk of a government shutdown.

The News of the Week: To CR or not to CR?

Last we left Congress, it was barreling toward a Jan. 19 partial government shutdown deadline with no plan in place. 

One week out from the deadline, congressional leaders have a plan — it’s just a question of execution. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) agreed to a topline spending number of $1.59 trillion — with $886 billion for defense spending and $704 billion for nondefense. The deal is basically the same one former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) negotiated with President Joe Biden over the debt limit last spring, with Johnson able to go back to his conference and tout $16 billion in new cuts.

But toplines are just that. To go back to the NFL, it’s a bit like knowing what your salary cap is, how much is allocated for offensive vs. defensive players, but not knowing how much you’ll pay each individual player. And the most right-wing House Republicans are saying let’s renegotiate the salary cap or else we won’t pay anyone. And let’s not give ourselves more time to figure out salaries unless we restrict the number of people we let into the stadium and build a wall around it.

Johnson, the team’s general manager in this scenario, decided — like his predecessor McCarthy — to stick with the topline agreement. His decision lowers the odds of a full shutdown and reflects the reality that with a Democratic Senate and White House, the only real spending agreement available is the one bipartisan negotiators had already come to.

So, here are the remaining questions for next week:

  • Will Congress pass another short term spending stopgap — a continuing resolution — to give themselves more time to write the bills? If not, we’re likely headed for a partial shutdown Jan. 19, affecting the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy and Veterans Affairs. (For a breakdown of what that means, refer to my prior shutdown explainer.
  • Will hardliners oust Johnson over this deal, the way they did McCarthy?

The Nevada Angle

As I often do in times of House Republican duress, I caught up with Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) to ask what he thinks and get a sense of his frustration level.

Amodei, a senior appropriator, said even if the toplines are adhered to, there is likely not enough time to write spending bills to those levels by next week. If it were up to him, Congress would pass a continuing resolution to extend current spending levels to February, making a uniform deadline for all government funding and averting a shutdown.

“I wouldn't move beyond that February [deadline] because this place doesn’t seem to play well when it doesn't have a gun pointed at its head,” he said.

Amodei, unwilling, like some members of his party, to plunge into a government shutdown over an ultimatum, said those trying to hold out for a better spending deal or a border bill unsupported by Democrats are not realistic. He does not think suspending payments to troops and domestic programs are an acceptable means to force policy outcomes — particularly in a divided government in which the only chamber that Republicans control is by a narrow margin anyway.

“I want it all and I want it my way and I want it right now,” Amodei said, describing his colleagues. “Let me know who's ever gotten that.”

The Impact

Amodei’s sentiment is shared in the Senate, where the Republicans are more realistic about what they can achieve in a divided government. And with Johnson standing firm on the toplines, it appears House Republicans, as Amodei has advised, will take what they can get.

But between retirements, ousters and health breaks, the House Republican majority can only afford to lose two votes for the foreseeable future. It’s going to be a slippery slope moving forward.

As the House Republican majority gets more unruly, a number of high-profile, team-player types have announced retirements and defections — from Financial Services chair Patrick McHenry (R-NC) to Conservative Climate Caucus chair John Curtis (R-UT) to Amodei’s Appropriations chair Kay Granger (R-TX). Most of them come from safe red seats, leading to the possibility that they could be replaced by more ideologically extreme members, and render Amodei’s brand of pragmatism less relevant.

Around the Capitol

🗓️New year, new drug caps — With the start of 2024, a critical provision of the Inflation Reduction Act is kickin’ in. Out-of-pocket prescription drug costs are now capped at $3,300 per year for Nevada’s nearly 600,000 seniors enrolled in Medicare.

🌎Every state’s a border state — Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) visited the U.S.-Mexico border in the first week of the year. At the Nogales-Mariposa Port of Entry in Arizona, the two met with law enforcement officials and toured a shelter for migrant families. The senators agreed that both agencies and nonprofits are overwhelmed and called for improving the asylum system and Border Patrol resources.

🏠HOMEs in the Senate — Rosen introduced the HOME Act this week in the Senate. The bill, first introduced in the House by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), would empower the Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate corporate price gouging in the housing market and illegalize landlords renting or selling units at prices deemed unreasonable if an area is in an affordable housing crisis. Nevada is considered to have the greatest affordable housing shortage in the U.S., by some metrics.

Notable and Quotable:

“Who really suffers the American people, regular everyday working people who can least afford it; [for example], our contractors. Government contractors who clean our buildings, work in our national parks, they wouldn't get paid.” 

— Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), on the potential for a government shutdown

Vote of the Week

S.J.Res. 38: Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Highway Administration relating to “Waiver of Buy America Requirements for Electric Vehicle Chargers”

This vote would nullify a Biden administration rule that waives the Buy America provisions for sourcing materials to build electric vehicle chargers, so long as the chargers are installed by Oct. 1.

Amodei: YES

Horsford: NO

Lee: NO

Titus: NO

Staffing Announcements

Josh Marcus-Blank was named the states communications director for President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign, focusing on battleground states. Marcus-Blank was Cortez Masto’s communications director, both for her Senate office and for her 2022 campaign.

Lauren Wodarski has been promoted to communications director for Cortez Masto, who she has worked for since 2017.

Katharine Kurz is now the NV Dems senior communications adviser, focusing on the Senate race. She previously worked on Brandon Presley’s gubernatorial campaign in Mississippi.

Chris D’Aloia is Rep. Susie Lee’s new communications director. A New Jersey native, he was previously communications director for Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).

If you have a new position in Nevada politics, reach out and let me know! 


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