Arkansas’ federal lawmakers no fans of shutdowns

Cotton recalls painful past failures to fund government

Arkansas' congressional delegation is shown in these file photos. Top row, from left: U.S. Sens. John Boozman, and Tom Cotton and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford. Bottom row, from left: U.S. Reps. French Hill, Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack.

WASHINGTON -- None of Arkansas' congressional delegates want a government shutdown.

All six members of the all-Republican delegation -- the Natural State's two senators and four members of the House of Representatives -- have served on Capitol Hill during periods when Congress failed to prevent a lapse in government funding, resulting in the federal government curtailing services and employees missing paychecks.

During conversations with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, none of the lawmakers expressed an interest in allowing a shutdown. Yet as the Senate and House continue down separate paths to fund the government, it appears more likely a shutdown will happen after Saturday.

"Shutdowns can cause a lot of pain," Arkansas' junior U.S. senator, Tom Cotton of Little Rock, said Thursday.

Cotton was serving in the House in October 2013 when congressional Republicans triggered a shutdown over President Barack Obama's health care law. As a senator, Cotton witnessed two shutdowns during the Trump administration over immigration and border security.

"I have not yet seen one that has led to a productive and positive result for our state," Cotton added.

The Senate on Thursday voted to proceed with a bipartisan stopgap spending measure to extend government funding through Nov. 17, but the House is unlikely to pass the proposal, which includes $6 billion in aid to Ukraine and $6 billion in disaster relief. House Republicans are looking to pass a measure with increased border security.

The House GOP effort comes amid a struggle within the conference to pass appropriations measures. House Republicans can only afford to lose four votes to pass legislation along party lines.

Any chance for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to reach a deal with the Democrat-controlled Senate has been complicated by the House's hard-right members pushing for deeper spending cuts and the threat of a motion to vacate the chair.

"The CR from the Senate will pass the CR from the House in transit," U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers predicted. "They will both encounter a similar fate: They will both die in those chambers."

As part of the debt ceiling agreement between President Joe Biden and House Republican leadership, spending measures for the next fiscal year are capped at $886 billion for defense and $704 billion for other issues. The House Appropriations Committee has approved bills to spend less than these amounts.

Senators have yet to consider the Senate Appropriations Committee's 12 spending bills, which committee members overwhelmingly approved in bipartisan votes before the August recess.

Womack and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, also of Rogers, serve as appropriators in their respective chambers.

"What we need to do is do our jobs and then actually get our appropriations bills passed," Boozman said.

Congress could pass a short-term stopgap measure to allow the chambers to work out any legislative differences, but Boozman warned against passing a long-term continuing resolution maintaining current funding levels.

"You can imagine it as a business," he explained. "If you were hamstrung with essentially spending money exactly the same as a year ago, that doesn't make any sense at all. We need to do our job and get these things done."

House Republicans on Thursday continued to rally around a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government with language increasing security at the U.S.-Mexico border. Rep. Bruce Westerman -- a member of the House Republican leadership team -- said a short-term funding bill must address concerns with migrants illegally entering the United States.

"Once it passes the House, that's the Senate's problem," the Hot Springs lawmaker said. "If they have problems with it, we'll have to get together and work out the differences. My main focus is to get a bill out of the House that funds the government, keeps the government open and closes the border."

House Republicans approved a border security measure in May, but the Senate will not consider that measure.

"It unifies House Republicans that are in opposition to the failed security situation on the border that, in our opinion, has been caused by the failures of the Biden administration," U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock said regarding the inclusion of border security.

Boozman and Cotton voiced support for discussing border security as part of a compromise.

Cotton emphasized he did not want to be "prescriptive" about a possible short-term agreement, but Democratic colleagues may back an arrangement limiting who can claim asylum upon entering the United States and increasing Border Patrol agents.

"I think it's important that we continue to fund the government in the short-term while we address some of these more contentious issues in the medium term," he added.

The Biden administration has been vocal about the possible effects of a government shutdown. According to the White House, nearly 7 million women, children and infants -- including 65,272 Arkansas residents -- would be at risk of losing access to nutrition assistance through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Certain government employees -- including military personnel and TSA agents -- would work without getting paid. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits would continue, but services could be delayed because of furloughs.

The National Park Service changed its operations during previous shutdowns, including staffing reductions in the 2013 and 2018-2019 shutdowns.

Members of Congress would continue getting paid as the U.S. Constitution prevents any disruptions.

Unsure about the possible shutdown's length, Womack is fronting staff members in Washington and Arkansas with $2,000 from future paychecks. Womack's office covers staff pay through his Members' Representational Allowance, which each office manages to cover expenses related to official business.

"I wouldn't trade these people for anything," he said. "I want them to know that they are valued enough that I'm going to give them consideration."

On top of the threat of a government shutdown, Congress must pass legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration before Sunday. Inaction regarding this agency's authority would create additional gridlock at America's airports if coupled with a government shutdown.

House Republicans and Democrats approved a reauthorization measure in late July. The current Senate funding effort would authorize aviation programs until mid-November.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro and Westerman serve on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Crawford said if Congress fails to reauthorize the agency, the blame "falls squarely in the lap of the Senate."

"I don't know what they were thinking, but it's pretty essential," he said. "At the very least, we're going to need an extension. It does get a little complicated when we're talking about a CR and [appropriations] bills."

House members have been meeting late every night this week to consider appropriations measures. Hill said most lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans -- hate the possibility of a shutdown, but he simultaneously acknowledged House Republicans cannot accomplish any of their policy goals by bending to the Senate or allowing a funding lapse.

"It's going to be a very fluid situation," he said. "I anticipate Congress being in session over the weekend in trying to bring resolution over this."