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Shutdown fears loom when lawmakers return to Washington after August recess

Rep. Marc Molinaro in this file photo taken in Poughkeepsie.
Rep. Marc Molinaro in this file photo taken in Poughkeepsie.

September means members of Congress will be heading back to Washington from their districts and the summer recess. And the next several weeks will be full of uncertainty.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to gavel back in on Sept. 12, and the government is facing an Oct. 1 deadline to approve almost a dozen appropriations bills or face a government shutdown.

In recent weeks, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been discussing the possibility of a short-term extender to buy more time, perhaps into December. But members of the right flank of the Republican majority, the Freedom Caucus, have so far balked at that idea.

“I don’t think anybody wants a government shutdown,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy spoke with reporters during a swing through upstate New York that included a campaign stop for first-term Republican Marc Molinaro of the 19th district. McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, have been talking about a continuing resolution since the last showdown over the debt ceiling in June.

Broadly speaking, majority Republicans are pressing for spending constraints and promoting a number of social issues in the bills aimed at matters like reproductive rights and healthcare for transgender people — which Democrats say are non-starters.

Molinaro says given the narrow margins in the House, both parties will have to give.

“The Speaker and I think the House is doing a good job trying to wrangle very different perspectives from the House majority,” she said. “The legislation that’s found its way certainly through both houses is bipartisan. At the end of the day, Republicans and Democrats supported the debt ceiling. I think more Democrats voted for the debt ceiling agreement than even Republicans did, but point being, we have an ideologically diverse conference from all across the country and we need to navigate that.”

Democrat Pat Ryan of the next door 18th district also spoke on WAMC’s Congressional Corner.

“I am concerned. I don’t think we will see a shutdown Oct. 1, I think what’s most likely is a continuing resolution, which would buy us a few weeks or months,” he said. “But this has to be resolved and it’s going to require actual compromise. We did show our ability to do that with the debt ceiling bill, which I voted for, and I hope we can do that again. We have to get to that bipartisan agreement again.”

Asked about the cause of the legislative logjam, Capital Region Democrat Paul Tonko of the 20th district pointed to culture war issues.

“Their latest demands are quite severe,” he said. “I think it would be very difficult to get the Senate in a bipartisan way or the Democrat caucus in our House to really come along with those demands. They’re severe, they’re extreme and they’re harmful to programs that are really important to the general public. So we will have very few legislative days remaining when we return. Half of September will be available to us. And we will have to get those 11 bills done.”

Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts’ 2nd District is the ranking member of the Rules Committee.

“I’m always worried about the potential of a shutdown and I’m especially worried with the people who are running the House,” he said. “They don’t seem to be rational. They seem only to be interested in pushing various right-wing hot buttons, I guess to get more Twitter followers. But they don’t care about governing. So I am worried about that. The Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, said that we might have to have a short-term CR, which I think we have to do. Because there’s 12 appropriations bills; we’ve only done one. I mean, we’re way, way behind.”

For his part, McCarthy ultimately has a tough call to make before October.

“Well, I’m willing, if it’s working together, to extend it for that short-term so you don’t have a government shutdown and you get a stronger position moving forward,” he said.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.