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Newsletter | February 28, 2024

Government Shutdown Threats Allow GOP to Signal to Corporate Cronies It’s Open Season on Consumers

Corporate CrackdownExecutive Branch
Government Shutdown Threats Allow GOP to Signal to Corporate Cronies It’s Open Season on Consumers

Will Biden and congressional Democrats rise to the challenge to defend their constituents from corporate harm?

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We’re staring down a familiar deadline this week: On Friday, if Congress doesn’t pass a spending bill, we’ll enter a partial government shutdown. And if they pass a short term continuing resolution… we’ll have just kicked the can a few weeks down the increasingly potholed (due to inadequate maintenance) road.

Republicans have long sought to sabotage the federal government’s ability to operate, and this week’s slow descent toward a possible shutdown is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga. We wrote last September about the looming threat of a MAGA-engineered government shutdown, as ultra-conservative House Republicans went back on the deal Biden had engineered with then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to avoid future shutdowns. That agreement, known as the Fiscal Responsibility Act, had already allowed Republicans to extract audacious austerity measures in exchange for the promise to pass future spending packages. Unsurprisingly, however, Republican lawmakers are trying to double-dip, stalling the passage of crucial appropriations bills while demanding more cuts. 

Through a series of maneuvers that postponed deadlines, a shutdown was avoided in October and November 2023. However, in delaying but not forestalling disaster, lawmakers—constrained by the bad-faith maneuvering of House Republicans—created another narrowly averted crisis in January of this year, which ended with a deadline extension to March 1 and March 8, 2024, to finalize funding for two groups of federal agencies. After a meeting between House and Senate leaders and President Biden Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Mike Johnson suggested that the passage of yet another short-term funding measure to allow more time for negotiation around appropriations bills seemed likely. 

While this moment feels familiar, some key differences in media coverage and angles stand out, as compared to past shutdown deadlines. Mainstream news sources seem more on board with the understanding that bad-faith Republican maneuvering, rather than supposedly inevitable partisan bickering, is driving the risk of a shutdown. Reuters and CNN, for example, have highlighted House Republicans’ role, though not as prominently as they could. 

But the angle we called attention to in September is still not foregrounded nearly often enough: corporations that already violate laws and regulations with impunity in pursuit of maximal profits will have a field day if the government shuts downs and key government enforcement powers are stalled. In addition to stripping away key government functions including child care, food and housing aid, and services for seniors, a shutdown would put a sizable dent in the executive branch’s ability to protect constituents from corporate wrongdoing. Functions from the civil rights enforcement to environmental inspections would halt, as my colleague Kenny Stancil detailed last year, with no corresponding drive for corporations to slow their discriminatory and extractive practices. 

For instance, Amazon and Meta, currently under investigation by the FTC, have no incentive to tell their lawyers to lay off while government attorneys are prevented from working on cases. Notorious polluters aren’t going to stop moving oil through leaky pipelines because the EPA’s investigations are being put on pause. The wealthy aren’t going to stop committing tax fraud just because the IRS investigators are furloughed, unable to work through their outstanding backlog of audits—nor are the wealthy who abuse the tax code using corporate jets for personal travel likely to reconsider their behavior if IRS scrutiny is decreasing. 

So many public servants who are supposed to protect us from unsafe working conditions or keep planes flying safely will either be furloughed, managing the constant “in case we shutdown” plans, working without pay, or otherwise impacted by the House’s gamesmanship. This is no way to run any institution, and it has predictable positive consequences for America’s least scrupulous corporations.

In other words, the machinery of corporate America doesn’t grind to a halt because House Republicans refuse to fund the government, but the public’s best defenses against corporate abuses—already existing regulations designed to limit corporate harms, when enforced properly—just might. The list of ever-more audacious and outrageous abuses of corporate America and its denizens should be included, if not front and center, in considering the impact of a government shutdown, even a short or partial one. 

But the media won’t likely get there on their own. The Biden administration should be enthusiastic about hammering this point home. Republicans are already engaging in bad-faith politics by attempting to engineer a shutdown while Biden is in office, aiming to dent his popularity at the start of election season. Biden should present a clear-eyed analysis of the situation, and show Americans who are in a populist mood that he understands the executive branch’s role as a safeguard between them and unmitigated corporate greed. He should make these arguments publicly, calling out specific corporate villains for their efforts to evade accountability.

For instance, right now, the FTC is working to prevent Kroger and Albertsons from further monopolizing the grocery sector. A government shutdown wouldn’t enable the proposed merger to magically proceed, but it would delay the Biden administration’s fight against it. Speaking out against this kind of consolidation bid, particularly at a time when grocery store prices have remained high despite lower inflation, would demonstrate attunement to everyday issues affecting consumers; highlight the corporate greed behind these high costs; and spotlight executive branch efforts to challenge corporations’ profit-grabbing. It would also underscore the many kinds of harm Republicans are co-signing in repeatedly threatening government shutdowns. 

In making these kinds of specific, targeted arguments calling out corporate greed more publicly, especially at already-dramatized moments like shutdown cliffs, Biden would be right—and he might convince more voters that he’s on their side.

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Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week:

RELEASE: Wyden Unethically Champions Big Tech’s Anti-Regulatory Push Despite Wife’s Massive Investments In Apple, Microsoft, Amazon And Google

On Larry And Ledes

Trump Judge And Louisiana AG Fight To Maintain Environmental Racism

OpenAI Has A New Tool For Generating Video. When Will They Generate Some Corporate Governance?

RELEASE: New Revelations Of Unreported SCOTUS Trips Underscore Court is Rotten to its Core

Larry Summers Resigned Just Days  Before Block Inc.’s Alleged Inadequate Practices Made Public

Revolving Door Project: Whistleblower Alleged CashApp Is Haven For Money Launderers And Other Criminals. Don’t Let Larry Summers’ Resignation Allow Him To Escape Scrutiny… Yet Again

A Return to Trump’s Housing Policies Would Be a Disaster

Where is the Oversight for Republican State Attorneys General?

RAGA Leadership, A Fraught History: Jeff Landry

RAGA Leadership, A Fraught History: Steve Marshall

RAGA Leadership, A Fraught History: Chris Carr

RAGA Leadership, A Fraught History: Ken Paxton

An RDP Love Letter To Picking Fights and Good Punditry

New York Post – Google moving ‘full steam ahead’ to cement search monopoly even after DOJ trial began: watchdog letter

Common Dreams – Docs on Supreme Court Justices’ Travel Fuel Reform Demands

E&E News: EPA urged to steer NEPA gas review to White House

The Gas Industry Squeeze Play

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