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The Republican Party is engaged in open warfare with itself that has paralyzed the new House majority and is propelling the country toward a government shutdown.
Days of bitter recriminations between far-right hardliners, moderates, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached new heights this week in extraordinary scenes of inter-party conflicts at the Capitol. The legislative breakdown makes clear the GOP’s tight grip on the House and ability to pass even basic budgets to operate the government is in jeopardy.
This Republican dysfunction now appears to put the U.S. on track for a shutdown when funding expires on Dec. 16. Furloughs of federal workers, suspension of services, and unpaid troops are possible outcomes if the standoff drags on.
The roots of the crisis lie with the demands by a small group of 20 conservative rebels for massive spending cuts in exchange for their votes on a stopgap funding bill. With the House margin razor thin, McCarthy cannot afford to lose more than four Republican votes. But the holdouts seem willing to force a shutdown showdown.
“I don’t know how they will get to 218,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), referring to the votes McCarthy needs to pass legislation.
Moderates Explore Alliance With Democrats
In a sign of growing desperation, some moderate Republicans in swing districts have floated teaming up with Democrats to pass a budget extension or continuing resolution (CR) that would avert a shutdown.
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) said “If the clown show of colleagues that refuse to govern doesn’t want to pass the CR, I will do everything we need to make sure the CR passes.”
But joining Democrats would likely require complex legislative maneuvers and may not happen quickly enough to beat the shutdown deadline. It could also destroy relationships within the Republican caucus.
“If moderate Republicans sign a discharge petition with Democrats, they are signing their own political death warrant,” warned Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a leading McCarthy antagonist.
On the other hand, Democrats may enjoy forcing Speaker McCarthy to rely on their votes to fund government and highlighting GOP disarray. But helping vulnerable Republicans could hurt their aim to retake the House majority in 2024.
Military Funding, Ukraine Aid Held Hostage
The Republican infighting claimed a new victim on Tuesday when conservatives blocked routine passage of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Failure to swiftly reauthorize military programs and pay troops helps adversaries like China and Russia, said Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA), an ex-Navy pilot. “They just handed a win to the Chinese Communist Party,” Garcia said about the NDAA defeat.
The limbo also jeopardizes vital military aid to Ukraine. When asked about support for Kyiv, an agitated McCarthy snapped, “Was Zelenskyy elected to Congress? Is he our president?”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will visit Congress this week to request more financial and military assistance against Russia’s invasion. But the House GOP’s meltdown now puts that lifeline in doubt.
Far Right Hijacks Agenda of Wider Party
At root, the stalemate shows how a small group of 20–30 far-right members have hijacked the Republican agenda in the House. They aim to force deep spending reductions that the broader conference, Senate, and White House would never accept.
“We’re being dragged around by 20 people, but 200 of us are in agreement,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), voicing frustration with the hardliner tactics.
By rejecting standard governance, the faction is wielding power far outweighing its numbers. Their intransigence threatens to tarnish Republicans in voters’ eyes after getting the House majority.
“The dysfunction caucus at work,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) about the radicals.
Nation Once Again Faces Prospect of Shutting Down
So yet again, political dysfunction means the world’s largest economy faces the prospect of shutting down basic government services in less than two weeks.
Past funding crises caused widespread disruptions, such as closed national parks, suspended safety inspections, and unpaid federal employees. Another blow to the economy is the last thing needed with high inflation and rising interest rates.
For veterans of past budget battles, the recurring cycle is frustrating. “The place doesn’t work anymore,” lamented Rep. Mike Simpson.
America’s increasing polarization and the GOP’s extremism in the Trump era make governing through compromise and coalition building a rare feat. Lawmakers seem locked into partisan warfare.
While shutdowns often end with last-minute deals, it’s unclear if a breakthrough can arrive in time. The Republican majority is historically narrow and bitterly split. And for some on the far right, shutting government makes political sense.
If the two parties can’t reach an agreement, vital services from small business loans to air traffic control face severe cutbacks. The military would go underfunded mid-war. And millions of Americans will again watch politicians fail at their most basic job: keeping the lights on.