Another showdown over government spending looms this week, and the American public is caught in the middle of a tussle that seems almost ritualistic. With only a few days left to pass 12 appropriations bills by September 30, Congress appears to be veering toward another “government shutdown,” throwing federal workers into limbo and shuttering agencies. A senior GOP aide predicted a short-term disruption: “It might be shut down over a weekend, open up on a Monday.”
But what’s truly at stake here? Why do we find ourselves in this cycle of fiscal dysfunction year after year? Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to expose the leadership apparatus he calls “The Firm.” In a series of posts placed on the platform last week, Lee illuminates how a bipartisan club of party leaders manipulates the legislative process to sustain high federal spending while sidelining individual legislators.
🧵1.The law firm of Schumer, McConnell, McCarthy, & Jeffries (“The Firm”) has learned that members of Congress (and voters) don’t like “omnibus” spending bills—that is, legislative proposals that fund all of the functions of the federal government in a single, consolidated bill.
— Mike Lee (@BasedMikeLee) September 15, 2023
Lee’s critique is pointed at the top brass from both sides of the aisle: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA.), and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). According to Lee, these leaders have realized that neither the public nor Congress is keen on colossal spending bills. The Utah senator explains that these bills are “written in secret” and unveiled just days before a looming shutdown, effectively killing any chance for a meaningful debate.
Lee’s concern isn’t necessarily with the idea of an omnibus spending bill per se. His issue lies with the secretive, rushed process that leaves lawmakers little option but to capitulate. “At the same time, the fast (almost mindless) flurry of legislative action at the end of this legislative charade gives it the false appearance of democratic legitimacy,” Lee said.
“If we're not going to secure the United States of America, we shouldn't fund the government that REFUSES to do so!”
MUST WATCH🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/iurbHaC8p9
— Rep. Chip Roy Press Office (@RepChipRoy) September 15, 2023
Notably, this isn’t a purely partisan issue. Lee discusses a “uni party” dynamic where leaders from both parties are comfortable with ever-increasing government spending. Lee identifies a pattern that such spending bills “tend to unite Democrats while sharply dividing Republicans,” which inevitably benefits the Democratic side.
This bipartisan consensus on spending is being challenged from within the Republican ranks, with the House Freedom Caucus and other conservative voices pushing back. They are working “to establish a plan to lower spending, secure the border, and avoid a government shutdown,” according to Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Stephanie Bice (R-OK).
Yet, while conservative Republicans strive for fiscal restraint, they’re often scapegoated by the media, blamed for causing government shutdowns instead of the leadership bent on neverending spending. A Congress functioning as intended shouldn’t require last-minute gimmicks to fund the government.
Lee hits a nerve when he questions whether Congress can still act as a deliberative body. If not, he argues, the idea of national self-government becomes “little more than a farce.” Given the monumental challenges facing our nation, from skyrocketing inflation to a $33 trillion national debt, it’s a question that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, should seriously ponder.
So, as the clock ticks toward another fiscal cliff, it’s crucial to keep our eyes on the real issue: a legislative process hijacked by a handful of leaders for whom political power trumps the well-being of the American people. Whether it’s a weekend shutdown or something longer, the chronic instability is a symptom of a deeper malaise that needs to be addressed. Sen. Lee’s expose on “The Firm” should be a wake-up call to Americans who value fiscal responsibility and the integrity of their democratic institutions.