This is the odd, gaptoothed version of the U.S. government that the House GOP has sketched out over the past eight days in a series of spending bills that would reopen departments and agencies one piece at a time.
The House has passed 11 bills, each funding just one agency or a handful of them. Eight more are in the works. The point is to make Democrats acknowledge something embarrassing — that even as they decry the shutdown, they will reject legislation to reopen popular agencies.
But, in the process, House Republicans have revealed something about themselves: The party of small government is struggling — mightily — to decide how much government it actually wants.
In some cases, lawmakers have sought to reopen agencies dear to their personal causes. In others, their requests have been based on complaints from folks at home. And in others, the GOP has simply acted to blunt media coverage of the shutdown.
On Wednesday, the House will vote on a bill that would ensure that the families of fallen U.S. service members receive death benefits during the impasse. GOP aides said they thought that death benefits were included in legislation that passed last week to ensure that troops would be paid during the shutdown. But news reports this week noted that several families had not received the payments of about $100,000 that are usually made within three days of the death of a service member.
“We’ve sent over . . . bills that keep critical portions of the federal government open,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), a member of the House’s GOP leadership, said Tuesday. “We have passed the bills in the House to open up the federal government, and yet the Senate refuses to act. That is not leadership.”
In a news conference Tuesday, President Obama rejected the piecemeal approach.
“What you’ve seen are bills that come up wherever Republicans are feeling political pressure, they put a bill forward,” he said. “And if there’s no political heat, if there’s no television story on it, then nothing happens. And you know, we don’t get to select which programs we implement or not.”
On Tuesday, the House passed its 11th small-scale funding bill since the shutdown began. It would provide $7.5 billion to keep the Head Start program — which serves low-income children — operating while most of the government stays shut. These measures are unlike the regular appropriations bills that traditionally fund the government, in that they provide funding only until the government is fully reopened.
In the House, the debate on the 11th bill followed a pattern set by the 10 others. Republicans were shocked that Democrats would refuse to fund something so valuable.