Why Gaetz and small group of GOP lawmakers have power to cause a government shutdown

WASHINGTON – As the country hurls closer to a government shutdown, a handful of hard-right Republican lawmakers who have been impeding nearly all progress toward funding the government, appear undeterred, even as a shutdown risks disrupting the lives of millions of Americans.

These House conservatives make up a small portion of the House GOP conference and represent a sliver of the country, but they have outsized power because of the razor-thin Republican majority. The GOP has a four-seat majority in the House, and these hard-line conservatives have been leveraging their critical votes in an attempt to extract deep spending cuts that are unpalatable for the Democratic-controlled Senate − and even some moderate GOP lawmakers.

The most vocal of this handful is Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who has threatened to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., if he works with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution that would avert a shutdown and give lawmakers extra time to pass spending bills. He has also called for deep cuts in government spending and has been joined in those calls by Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C.; Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.; Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla.; Rep. Eli Crane, R-Ariz. and other members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus.

Their refusal to entertain anything less than their demands has embroiled the House in chaos for the last few weeks and they have repeatedly challenged McCarthy, from sending his bid for speaker through 15 historic rounds of voting in January and threatening to remove him in May for brokering a deal with Democrats to avert a debt ceiling crisis.

With roughly two days left and lawmakers having barely made any progress, demands are increasing from the House Freedom Caucus, a loose coalition of some of the hard-right lawmakers. In a letter Thursday to McCarthy, they asked for details on his plan to fund the government after weeks of negotiations, urged him to say whether he will refute the bipartisan Senate plan to temporarily fund the government and whether the House will remain in session until all spending bills are passed.

The only path forward to avoiding a shutdown lies in passing a continuing resolution – the short-term stopgap bill – to keep the government open for a brief amount of time while lawmakers negotiate a spending deal. But Freedom Caucus members say they want answers on McCarthy’s plan before voting for any continuing resolution as time runs short.

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Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., center, listens to reporters' questions following a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., center, listens to reporters' questions following a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington.

“No member of Congress can or should be expected to consider supporting a stop-gap funding measure without answers,” the letter says.

Those members have been pushing for McCarthy to pass the 12 appropriation bills needed to fund the government instead of a short-term stopgap. Some of those lawmakers, along with other House conservatives not from the Freedom Caucus, have said they would not vote for a continuing resolution under any circumstances, even in the face of a shutdown.

'It may get worse before it gets better'

Gaetz acknowledged last week to reporters a shutdown would affect tens of thousands of his constituents and that they would “go without a paycheck,” but argued the impacts of government spending levels is a worse outcome for Americans. Gaetz has threatened to file a motion to vacate against McCarthy if he puts forth a continuing resolution that earns Democratic support.

“I know the impact of a shutdown but I also know the impact of continuing to run $2 trillion annual deficits year over year with no end in sight,” Gaetz said. “So it may get worse before it gets better but I have little to offer but blood, sweat, toil and tears but that may be what it takes.”

Under any circumstances,  “I won’t vote for a (continuing resolution),” Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., told reporters Tuesday, deriding continuing resolutions as the “D.C. status quo.”

Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., a conservative who has vowed to never vote for a stopgap measure, laid the blame on House GOP leadership and said they have not made efforts to change his and his colleague’s minds.

“I asked them early on. I said let’s get all of us in the room, all the people that are against it early on (so) we can avoid all this,” Burchett said.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., has threatened to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., if he works with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution that would avert a government shutdown.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., has threatened to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., if he works with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution that would avert a government shutdown.

House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., a key conservative negotiator open to a continuing resolution, blamed the Biden administration for an impending shutdown, telling reporters Thursday the White House does not understand the economic reality Americans are facing.

“If we continue what we’re doing with no changes, their economic future will only get worse,” he said.

When asked about the impacts of a shutdown on contractors specifically, Donalds said he is sorry they’re in their current position, but said Americans will face larger negative impacts from government overspending.

“But I will also say that massive government overspending also has put them in another position where they’re getting paid now, but they’re falling behind every single day when they go to the supermarket and they go to a gas station, wanting to pay the light bill”

“Every other family has had to cut their budgets, but Washington continues to overspend? That is insane,” he added.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla.,
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla.,

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hard-right GOP on shutdown: 'May get worse before it gets better'