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it looks like Congress has found a way to avoid at least one crisis this week

Keeping up with politics is easy now

The Washington Post

Okay, it looks like Congress has found a way to avoid at least one crisis this week: a government shutdown.

What’s happening: Lawmakers in the Senate agreed on a spending bill to keep the government open for a month or so. Things are fluid, but they could vote on it as soon as today and send it to the House of Representatives today or tomorrow. That doesn’t leave much room for error: The deadline to fund government agencies is midnight Thursday, when the fiscal year ends.

How a deal came together: Essentially, Democrats acquiesced to Republican demands — for now. Remember, Republicans have refused to provide any votes to raise the debt ceiling, a separate fiscal issue facing Congress right around the same time that the government needs funding. Democrats tried to call the GOP’s bluff by folding the two bills together this week — a debt ceiling suspension and funding the government. But Republicans voted essentially in favor of a shutdown rather than providing votes to lift the debt ceiling. (Need a debt ceiling explainer? I got you here.)

What happens next: If a spending bill passes the Senate, it also needs to pass the House. And there, things are raucous. Liberals and centrist Democrats are fighting over a separate, big vote on infrastructure legislation that was supposed to happen Thursday but may not because of intraparty squabbling. (Need an explainer on all the bills happening this week? I got you there, too.)

But let’s say lawmakers pass a bill to keep the government open. Their only real victory is to have avoided catastrophe. They’ve only delayed this fight until December, and they haven’t actually legislated actual policy in terms of how government agencies are funded.

And an even bigger problem looms. Democrats still need to figure out how to raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 18 without any Republican votes. So far, their strategy seems to be to pressure Republicans, who don’t seem to be budging. Meanwhile, we get closer to a first-ever default in American history.

A note on Republicans’ role in all this

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is leading Republicans' fight to avoid voting to lift the debt ceiling. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

In yesterday’s newsletter, I stepped back from the day-to-day fighting to talk about why Washington is so dysfunctional. To which some of you replied: What about Republicans, in particular?

So, what about Republicans? It’s true that what the GOP is doing right now is extraordinary. Republicans are refusing to lend any votes to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default that could dramatically wound the U.S. economy. Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) even blocked Democrats from a procedural vote to raise the debt ceiling with just Democratic votes.

Democrats are right when they accuse Republicans of doing this for political points. It’s a hardball method for Republicans to demonstrate they are fighting President Biden’s agenda, ahead of midterm elections in which Republicans have a chance to win back both chambers of Congress.

And while both parties have political poles that can sometimes not be rooted in reality, Republicans seem beholden to the most extremist elements in their party.

To wit: Former president Donald Trump tried to steal a presidential election, and he incited a mob to attack the Capitol as lawmakers were certifying his loss. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said former Republican congressman Charlie Dent in an interview today. Dent retired in 2018 from his Pennsylvania district, a moderate Republican who was becoming an increasingly endangered species.

“At some point, you can’t be for a guy who was an insurrectionist, or in support of an insurrection,” Dent said of his party. “And the fact that we are now tied up in knots over it as a party speaks to the bad position that we’re in.”

The Post’s senior congressional correspondent Paul Kane agreed: “The Democrats have a lot of their own internal struggles, but one of the most debilitating things is you have a party, especially House Republicans, that is basically devolving into a non-policy, non-idea [group].

There is no real ideology among House Republicans these days. They aren’t really conservative anymore; they are just angry.”

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