Everyone makes choices in life. You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. Twelve Florida House Republicans chose the former this week in opposing a last-minute measure to keep the federal government open.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson was forced to rely on Democrats to pass a stopgap funding bill Tuesday as hard-right members of the Republican conference balked in the face of a government shutdown. Johnson’s laddered approach funds some federal departments, such as Agriculture and Energy, until Jan. 19, and others, including Defense and Homeland Security, until Feb. 2. Tuesday’s vote was 336-95, with 209 Democrats and 127 Republicans joining to pass the temporary funding patch. Ninety-three Republicans, and two Democrats, opposed it.
For Johnson, whom his divided conference named speaker only weeks ago, the outcome was both a legislative victory and a political defeat. While the House maneuvered to avoid a government shutdown as early as Friday night, the Republican House majority yet again failed to govern as the majority.
Twelve Florida Republicans joined the party’s holdouts to put the government on the brink and to embarrass their newly-minted speaker. Among them was Lakeland Rep. Scott Franklin, who only weeks ago hailed Johnson’s ascension as speaker, declaring: “He’s exactly who we need to unite us.” So much for that.
While the Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure in bipartisan fashion Wednesday, it says something when nearly half of House Republicans chose to catapult the government toward closure. And for many, their excuses were as lame as they were self-serving. It’s not as if anyone outside Congress created this crisis. The members’ refusal to work within America’s divided government is what forced these defining votes this week.
It’s further worth noting that the Republican defections came after House Democrats signaled they would support the speaker’s plan, which gave wavering Republicans an easy opportunity to have their cake and eat it, too. But outside Capitol Hill, back in the real world, in places like Scott Franklin’s Lakeland, and in St. Petersburg, whose Republican congresswoman, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, also voted against the bill, a government shutdown is more than a partisan talking point, especially as the holiday season nears.
A federal shutdown could have put hundreds of thousands of people out of work, delayed an array of services for children, seniors and businesses and put a dangerous crimp on traveler safety as the airlines ramp up for the Thanksgiving weekend. While federal employees might be entitled to back pay upon returning, the move could have created economic hardship for many, and robbed the economy of coveted cash as the holiday shopping season begins. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the five-week partial shutdown that ended in 2019 reduced the nation’s economic output by $11 billion, including $3 billion that would never be recovered. Shutdowns also negatively affect business investment and hiring decisions as companies cannot obtain the federal permits, certifications or loans they need to operate. This is real disruption to real people who did nothing to deserve the agony.
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Eight Florida Republicans joined all eight Florida House Democrats in voting with the other adults in the room to continue funding the government. These eight were in the minority among Florida Republicans, but their numbers and voices were meaningful, nonetheless. Tampa Bay was well served by three of them who represent our area — Reps. Gus Bilirakis of New Port Richey, Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key and Laurel Lee of Brandon.
For all the theatrics this week, Congress bought itself only a few months to reach agreement on longer-term spending. So the uncertainties remain as a dimming armistice in the Republican ranks prepares to get tested again. Will your representative be part of the problem, or part of the solution?
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.