House GOP 'hostage-taking' condemned as shutdown nears
(Photo by Nicholas Kamm for AFP)

A coalition of nearly 90 progressive groups and labor organizations condemned U.S. House Republicans on Friday for threatening a destructive government shutdown as they push for steep and unpopular cuts to education, healthcare, food aid, and environmental protection programs.

"We urge Congress to quickly pass appropriations bills—at least at the spending levels agreed upon in the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023—and to refuse to entertain legislation that guts critical programs so many Americans rely on," the ProsperUS coalition wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic congressional leaders.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act was the product of weeks of negotiations between the Biden White House and House Republicans, who threatened to force the U.S. government to default on its debt and send the economy into a tailspin if the administration and congressional Democrats didn't agree to massive spending cuts.

The two sides ultimately reached a deal that included two years of caps on nonmilitary federal spending—which are effectively cuts, as spending won't keep up with inflation—as well as new work requirements for older food aid recipients.

But Republicans quickly reneged on the deal by putting forth appropriations bills that would set federal spending well below the agreed-upon levels—heightening the risk of a government shutdown come September 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

The Center for American Progress—a member of the ProsperUS coalition—estimated in an analysis released last week that the House GOP's 12 appropriations bills would "provide $58 billion less for ongoing nondefense programs than the levels agreed to in the debt limit deal," leaving the programs with their lowest funding levels since at least 1962. The House has only passed one of the dozen appropriations bills.

"There is absolutely no reason for deal-breaking and hostage-taking to be rewarded and encouraged by caving to the demands of a small, reckless group of radical members in the House."

In its letter on Friday, ProsperUS warned that House Republicans' proposals "would hurt workers, families, and communities, particularly low-income people of color, by slashing investments in K-12 education, healthcare, lead poisoning prevention, safe drinking water, cancer research, and more."

"They would also empower the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations by slashing the resources that the Internal Revenue Service needs to go after wealthy tax cheats and recoup billions of dollars in unpaid taxes," the letter continues. "These cuts fly in the face of what the vast majority of people across the country want."

The coalition cites new survey data from Navigator Research showing that U.S. voters overwhelmingly oppose cuts to clean water programs, education, the Social Security Administration, and other areas that Republicans have targeted in recent weeks.

"We urge the House to abandon the dangerous, partisan path it has chosen so far and instead follow the example set by the Senate and pass appropriations bills that, at minimum, adhere to the contours of the recent bipartisan budget deal, invest appropriately in critical national priorities, and can earn bipartisan support," the coalition wrote. "Simply put, there is absolutely no reason for deal-breaking and hostage-taking to be rewarded and encouraged by caving to the demands of a small, reckless group of radical members in the House."

The letter comes a day after House GOP leaders were forced to postpone a procedural vote on the chamber's military appropriations bill. As Reutersreported, the move "may be a sign that Republicans, who hold a narrow 222-212 majority, are not confident they have the votes to pass the measure, as party hardliners push back against Speaker Kevin McCarthy."

A day earlier, McCarthy (R-Calif.) was accused of caving to the most far-right members of his caucus by announcing an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

McCarthy is also facing pressure from members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus to pursue even larger cuts to federal spending than what's already been proposed, further increasing the likelihood of a shutdown that would risk damage to critical nutrition assistance programs and other services.

"We're gonna have a shutdown," Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a Freedom Caucus member, said earlier this week. "It's just a matter of how long."

Bilal Baydoun, director of policy and research at the Groundwork Collaborative—which is part of the ProsperUS coalition—said Friday that "the choice by House Republicans to deprive the American public of food aid, clean water funding, or lifesaving cancer research is not about red ink or 'funding levels.'"

"It's a moral verdict that the majority of communities and vulnerable Americans do not deserve public support," said Baydoun. "We cannot allow a handful of extremists in the House to force a government shutdown over cruel and unnecessary cuts to essential programs that workers and families rely on."