Will Republicans Shut Down the Government Again?

House GOP leaders fear a conservative revolt when government funding comes up for a vote next month.
A barrier blocks the Washington Monument during the October 2013 government shutdown. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

The last government shutdown, almost a year ago, was no fun for anyone. Republicans in the House and Senate demanded that legislation to fund the government simultaneously defund Obamacare; Democrats refused to go along. In the ensuing 16-day stalemate, many functions of the federal government were forced to shutter. Federal workers were furloughed or worked without pay, children were disenrolled from Head Start, and the U.S. economy lost about $24 billion. Heartbreakingly, the annual Assateague Pony Roundup was canceled. Veterans were forced to commit civil disobedience and break into national monuments. (Okay, the shutdown was apparently fun for a few people: Nine months later, there were anecdotal reports of a D.C.-area baby boom.)

The shutdown was particularly hard on Republicans' image, as voters primarily blamed them for the chaos. Once it was over, the GOP seemed to have learned its lesson about the price of obstinacy. In December, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate negotiated a budget deal setting spending levels through 2015, and in January both houses easily approved the funding for it—the first time since 2009 Congress had passed a real budget rather than a temporary spending authorization known as a continuing resolution. A new era of rationality and calm seemed to have dawned.

But while the topline budget numbers set by the budget deal go through October 2015, the funding passed in January expires at the end of next month, on September 30. Both houses must pass new funding bills—likely in the form of a continuing resolution—to keep the government running. And that has raised the possibility of further shenanigans.

A well-placed House Republican source tells me GOP leadership is increasingly nervous about the potential for a rebellion on the funding bill. The small but influential hard core of House conservatives were emboldened by what happened earlier this month with the border bill: A proposal favored by Speaker John Boehner to address the border crisis with emergency funding and expedited deportations had to be pulled when conservatives, egged on by Senator Ted Cruz, revolted. The legislation the House passed instead had a smaller price tag and would bar President Obama from continuing his policy of allowing some young undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. The Democrat-led Senate, meanwhile, did not manage to pass its own version of border legislation at all, so Congress failed to act on the issue.

House conservatives like Michele Bachmann and Steve King considered the episode a major victory. Bachmann called it a highlight of her career. Now, Republican leaders are worried that conservatives will not go along with a simple government-funding bill unless it reflects their priorities.

One possibility, raised by Senator Marco Rubio in an interview with Breitbart this week, is attaching to the funding bill a mechanism to stop Obama from taking executive action to liberalize immigration enforcement, as he has already done and threatens to do further. "There will have to be some sort of a budget vote or a continuing-resolution vote, so I assume there will be some sort of a vote on this," he told the publication. "I'm interested to see what kinds of ideas my colleagues have about using funding mechanisms to address this issue." Making government funding contingent on immigration-related legislation would instantly turn it into a highly charged partisan battle.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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