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The Countdown Continues

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - September, November, January and now March? Counting down to see if a tentative agreement in principle between Congressional leaders can be passed, first by the fractured House this afternoon and then by the Senate.  

Ta-dah-de-dah! 

Majority Leader Mike Johnson was able to control his fractious Freedom Caucus and their satellite lawmakers long enough to obtain the two-thirds majority necessary to move it through the House. It now goes to the Senate, presumably absent any wingnut policy riders that would torpedo it. 

This provides funding for six agencies covering the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Justice, Energy, the Interior, House and Urban Development, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs to allow them to continue functioning, at least until March 8. 

Funding for the rest of the government, including Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Financial Services, State and Foreign Operations, and the Legislative Branch, will be extended from March 8 to March 22. 

House Members now head home – some may get an earful from constituents – but are due back Tuesday with only a handful of days to pass six complicated full appropriation bills for these agencies before the government again teeters on the brink. Supposedly, these are agreed upon on principle but… 

Why does the country have to hold its collective breath on an ongoing basis to see if our bickering politicians can cobble together yet another continuing resolution or prepare for a government shutdown? 

Why do our representatives consistently wrangle over increasingly polarized policy issues with opposing parties inserting or calling out dead-on-arrival provisions in essential legislation? 

It’s actually old news. A budget timeline established in 1974 requires Congress to pass a budget every year by April 15 and, additionally and separately, for both the Senate and the House to pass appropriations bills to fund the 12 economic parts of the government prior to the start of its fiscal year on October 1. 

Hah! What a wonderful set-up for dysfunctional partisan squabbling. 

Congress has funded all regular appropriation bills only four times before the start of the fiscal year; the last time in 1996. 

Each party seizes this opportunity to try and leverage in some of their pet projects so these deadlines are rarely met and, instead, they generally generate short-term bills to tide the operation of the government over until they can get their fiscal act together. 

These are known as continuing resolutions and Congress has passed 36 of them over the past 15 years. 

The alternative is to shut non-essential segments of the government down causing hardship for tens of millions of Americans and squandering more of our tax dollars. 

The non-reveal of a bipartisan spending deal last Sunday led to a Tuesday discussion between President Joe Biden and the top four congressional leaders – Johnson, his Minority counterpart in the House, Hakeem Jeffries, and Senate Majority and Minority leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. 

The previous Friday, the federal government formally initiated the process to ensure departments and agencies that would be hit by the then March 1 deadline had reviewed and updated their shutdown plans. The rest of the government joined in this week to ensure essential functions can proceed while others fall by the wayside. 

This all comes at a cost with all ordinary obligations deferred, and personnel who would be furloughed distracted by their own concerns. 

As Chuck Schumer pointed out in the “Dear Colleague” letter he sent to spur the hoped-for consensus today (hallelujah!), any shutdown “would significantly hurt Americans, disrupt supply chains, hamper small businesses, upend services for our military and veterans, jeopardize health care for children and families” and “without key federal housing loan support, potentially causing rent and housing prices to spike” not to mention “exact untold pain on the American people.” 

And this is the fourth time since September. 

This constant playing with fire brings out the worst in elected officials as they attempt to balance playing to their party, to their constituents, and to the shadowy forces that fund their campaigns – each of which may desire conflicting outcomes. 

Omnibus bills can shield individuals from scrutiny when difficult votes could become fodder for opponents in future elections. But not so much in on-record debate and consensus needed to pass the long-stalled appropriations bills. 

Furthermore, perhaps what is in the legislation currently being considered should give us pause. 

Reportedly, Biden’s meeting on Tuesday with the Congressional leaders was also to push his personal agenda on a national security package, including military support for Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel. 

And Israel. 

A big lift considering the mounting opposition not only of pacifists and of those backing an independent Palestine but also of large numbers of Jewish Americans, the US military and people from countries around the world horrified by Biden’s continuing support for the Israeli military’s genocidal actions in Gaza where over 29,000 have been murdered, a majority women and children, in retaliation for the Hamas terrorists’ murder of 1,200 Israelis last October along with taking another 250 hostage. 

This is not our fathers’ Israel. This is no surgical rescue like Munich and Entebbe. It is scorched-earth extermination of a people and the total destruction of a country. And will be the death knell of governments and leaders who continue to not only support it but provide the weapons and resources and glorify in their abuse of the Palestinians. 

That’s what drove 100,000 Michiganders to write in “Uncommitted” for the Democratic Presidential nominee earlier this week. 

This is the horror that drives the self-immolation of United States Air Force cyber-defense operations specialist Aaron Bushnell. 

These should be the despicable acts that compel Biden to save his soul, to reinvest in the sense of rightness and pride Americans have in their country, and to regain his momentum in the coming election. 

Instead he mulishly continues to proceed in opposition to supporters and allies alike to underwrite Netanyahu’s megalomania. 

After already approving almost a billion in high-tech weaponry last May, Biden unilaterally sent more weapons to Israel twice in December along with approving more hundreds of millions of dollars in arms and ammunition sales. 

And pushing through a $95 billion foreign aid package, over $14 billion of which went to Israel – clearly less about aid and more about murder. While the $6 billion urgently needed for the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) languished, unfunded. 

Then invoking American vetoes at the United Nations to stop international pressure for a real ceasefire... 

Biden pushing a temporary ceasefire until the remaining hostages are rescued is despicable. He seems to be playing Coriolanus Snow, president in the Hunger Games series; so long as his friends get their hostages home, all rules are off and let the games begin again. 

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)