Montana's congressional delegation weighs in on budget talks, potential government shutdown

U.S. Capitol MTN
Posted at 7:12 PM, Sep 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-28 21:12:39-04

HELENA — As budget negotiations continue on Capitol Hill and the possibility of a federal government shutdown grows, the four members of Montana’s congressional delegation are divided on the best way to move forward.

In the House, controlled by Republicans, some conservative members are pushing for additional spending cuts and policy changes on issues like border security to be part of any budget deal.

Throughout the budgeting process, Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale has been among the staunchest critics of any possible continuing resolution that would temporarily extend government funding as the negotiations continue. He has instead called for the House to focus on passing its 12 main appropriations bills – which he said would create a more transparent budgeting process.

“I think that for Congress to basically cop out and use a continuing resolution to fund government is a really, really bad decision,” Rosendale told MTN this week. “By very definition, a continuing resolution continues Nancy Pelosi spending levels and Joe Biden's policies.”

Rosendale has been critical of House Republican leadership, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He told MTN a spending agreement McCarthy made with President Joe Biden earlier this year during the debt ceiling negotiations didn’t go far enough in reducing deficits and removing funding for administration policies the House disagrees with.

Rosendale believes the impact of a government shutdown would be limited, as long as it remains short.

“So we have a little bit of a window from now until the middle of October before the financial impact truly starts hitting,” he said. “By that time, I do believe we certainly have the ability to get these appropriation bills considered, amended, passed over to the Senate, and then up to the president's desk.”

Rep. Ryan Zinke sits on the House Appropriations Committee, which takes the lead in putting together the budget bills. He says the bills they’ve advanced are the most conservative in years, and that they defunded what he called “woke” policies. He said, at this point, Republicans need to stick together and advance the bills before them – and he criticized some party members he said were holding up the process.

Even if the House advances several of the appropriations bills – dealing with things like defense – Zinke told MTN it might not be enough to stave off a shutdown.

“We got to get all these through,” he said. “If we do our job with the appropriations, is there enough time to send it to the Senate and sign it? Probably not. And then we would need some vehicle while things are being done.”

Zinke said he has concerns about the effects of a shutdown, especially if military members start missing paychecks. On Thursday, he announced his support for a bill that would provide funding to pay military salaries if a shutdown occurs.

“To take their pay over a political positioning, that has consequences,” Zinke said. “As an example, an E-5’s probably going to miss a car payment, probably a rent payment. His credit line is going to be harmed. That means his interest rates are going to go up.”

The appropriations bills that pass the House may face a tough road in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. Senate leadership has proposed their own continuing resolution, which would extend government funding through the middle of November.

Sen. Jon Tester, Montana’s lone Democrat in Congress, is backing the continuing resolution. He says the Senate has done its job and passed budget bills, and that it’s unreasonable for the House to now seek changes to the agreements reached in the debt ceiling fight.

“There's a potential that the government could shut down for a day or two – and look, that's not good business, but it's not the end of the world,” he said. “I think that you get a shutdown any longer than that, it starts having a real negative effect on businesses and families and our credibility in the world as a democracy.”

Tester said he believes there has to be a bipartisan solution to avoid the threat of a shutdown.

“It's not going to save money – the last shutdown cost us $11 billion in wasted money,” he said. “So there's work to be done here – the solutions are quite simple, quite frankly – people just need to work together and get it done.”

Some House members have expressed reservations about including additional funding for Ukraine in the budget deal. Tester said he was concerned that having that funding get held up as part of the negotiations would make the U.S. look less dependable on the world stage.

Sen. Steve Daines told MTN Thursday that he agreed the impacts of a shutdown would be significant, but he said he saw one potential path to avoiding that situation: passing a short-term funding extension, tied together with an agreement that the Biden administration will step up border enforcement.

“I think it’s something, if we can get Joe Biden and the Senate Democrats to agree on securing the southern border, that would stand a chance to get passed in the U.S. House,” he said. “I think that's probably our best path forward at this moment. But look, a government shutdown doesn't solve the problem. A government shutdown costs the taxpayers billions of dollars.”

Daines said he expected the Senate to vote on its continuing resolution some time Friday or Saturday, and he still believed an agreement might be reached in time to resolve the impasse before the Oct. 1 deadline. However, he said this is another sign Congress has for too long failed to get its budget work done on time.

“At this time when we're facing the end of the fiscal year – which has been the case now for 26 consecutive years – Congress has not been able to get their budgets passed,” he said. “If you were in the private sector, you'd be fired. That's why we should be shutting down the pay of members who can't get this job done versus shutting down the government.”

This week, a spokesperson for Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office said officials from the Office of Budget and Program Planning are working with state agencies to prepare for a possible federal shutdown, “in the event Congress can't get its act together and keep the federal government up and running for the American people.”