Under the Threat of Another Government Shutdown

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) arrives for a meeting with House Republicans on Nov. 7, 2023, to discuss the possibility of a budget continuing resolution as the Nov. 17 government shutdown deadline looms. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Update on Nov. 15 at 6:10 a.m. PT: On Tuesday, the U.S. House passed legislation to keep federal funding flowing into early 2024. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) relied largely on Democratic votes to pass the measure, after 93 Republicans opposed his plan to avert a government shutdown. The final vote was 336 to 95. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he wanted the Senate to vote on the bill “as soon as possible.”

The government might shut down this week (again). Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown this September, when it passed a bipartisan continuing resolution—a temporary funding measure to allow for negotiations on a full-year budget bill—that expires on Nov. 17. 

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, just three weeks into his tenure, proposed a “two-step continuing resolution” this weekend that would provide funding for some federal programs until Jan. 19 and the rest through Feb. 2. The plan has already elicited disapproval from both sides of the aisle, with some Republicans disappointed that the resolution does not include spending cuts and Democrats balking at its “super convoluted” structure. 

One of the spending cuts House Republicans proposed in the form of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, was the total elimination of the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, an agency created in 1920 to improve women’s working conditions. The Women’s Bureau conducts research on the issues that face women in the workplace and supports programs that fight sexual harassment, provide training for women in male-dominated industries, and promote paid leave and progressive childcare policies.

For Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, the attempt to defund the Women’s Bureau reminds her of her earliest days in the House of Representatives.

“We are fighting some of the same battles here,” said DeLauro, who was first elected in 1991, on a recent episode of the Fifteen Minutes of Feminism (part of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin podcast).

DeLauro entered the House the year Anita Hill testified about the sexual harassment she experienced at the hands of then-Supreme-Court-nominee Clarence Thomas (only after women in the House demanded that she be heard). There were no women’s bathrooms on the floor of the House, and “women and minorities were not part of the clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health,” DeLauro said.

During a Capitol reception celebrating 50 years of Ms. this year, DeLauro said that, at the beginning of her career, she and her colleagues “talked about child tax credit or talked about paid family leave [and] talked about equal pay for equal work. We were the crazy aunts in the attic, you know?”

Now, she said, “these issues are front and center and making a difference” to voters.

But, at the same time, she said, House Republicans are trying to abolish the Women’s Bureau, they’re also:

  • attempting “a $75-million cut to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division, cutting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission”;
  • pulling $800 million [that] fund maternal and child health” from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), “eliminating funding for Title X [family planning]”; and
  • “reversing the FDA decision on mifepristone”

… among other setbacks.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro on July 25, 2023. Joined by Medicare advocates, Congressional Democrats held a news conference “to call for action to stop wrongful delays and denials in private Medicare Advantage plans, to end to fraudulent overpayments, and to mandate accountability for the worst actors who hurt patients.” (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

These proposed cuts explain, in part, why Congress is turning to continuing resolutions, a stopgap mechanism to keep the government running, instead of a full-year appropriations bill. Republicans disagree about the extent of the spending cuts, and Democrats see many of them as nonstarters.

In a press release from September on the appropriations bill put forth by House Republicans, Jocelyn C. Frye, the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said that even though “[t]heir proposals outline an all-out assault on women’s quality of life and ability to thrive in our economy,” the “infighting between different GOP factions seems focused on whether their extreme cuts are extreme enough.”

Even though the passage of another continuing resolution would avert a government shutdown, since continuing resolutions provide for short-term funding periods, they can lead to “administrative inefficiencies and limited management options,” both of which can interfere with programs upon which Americans rely. 

In conversation with Michele Goodwin, Rep. DeLauro, who served as the chief of staff to former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) prior to her service in the House, said that “Congress’s greatest strength is its potential. It doesn’t do what you want it to every day, some days it does exactly the opposite of what you do. … We need to, you know, push the edge of the envelope on what happens here, so that this institution does what it was intended to do. It needs to be an advocate for people—to transform people’s lives.”

DeLauro has experience in “utilizing the strength of this institution to make change in people’s life.” While on Dodd’s staff, she successfully worked to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and now wants to expand it to provide for paid leave. But pushing the envelope is difficult in a Republican-controlled House that is willing to risk a government shutdown to cut essential programs for family planning, maternal health and equality in the workplace.

“At the moment, we are stymied in where we are,” DeLauro said, “but the environment changes.” 

The House will vote on Johnson’s two-tiered and fraught continuing resolution this week—but its success is unlikely. Without changes to what White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre expressed is “an unserious proposal that has been panned by members of both parties,” the Friday shutdown deadline looms.

Hear more from DeLauro on her vision for Congress on Fifteen Minutes of Feminism: Fighting For Women Workers (with Rep. Rosa DeLauro).

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Morgan Carmen is in her third year at Harvard Law School, where she is the president of the Alliance for Reproductive Justice. She is an intern with Ms. Studios and is based in Cambridge, Mass. Find her on Twitter @morgancarmen_.