Editorial: Another game of chicken: House averts shutdown, for now

With two funding bills passed just under the wire, the House under Speaker Mike Johnson has ensured that the federal government won’t run out of operating funds until… March 1 and March 8, depending on the agency. His wacko right flank, predictably, was not happy.

We suppose it’s better than the alternative of shutting the government down, in the same way that having a stale old bagel is technically better than having nothing to eat. It’s not going to really fix the underlying issue here and it’s certainly not something to take a victory round over.

While some observers might be confused as to why Congress is struggling mightily to do something relatively routine which is necessary for the government to continue operating, this befuddlement stems from a misunderstanding of the role of House Republicans as it exists now.

Despite their title, many of these legislators are not in that body to legislate, i.e. to engage in discussions and write legislation that will, in principle, improve their constituents’ lives. They are there to wage culture war, burnish their personal image, clash with ideological opponents and fundraise for both reelection and personal projects.

We don’t mean to say that anybody in the House is apolitical, but there certainly are members who are, at the end of the day, committed to finding paths to passable bills and keeping the body as a functional organ of government. Their numbers are probably dwindling, and who can blame them?

The others have made it so that this goal is all but unreachable, a self-reinforcing cycle as the body gets more and more dysfunctional. At this stage, it probably seems like an attractive prospect mainly if you don’t intend to legislate.

So we’ll carry on for another couple months with funded federal agencies, and then we’ll have to play chicken once again with the lives of millions of federal workers, their families, and the innumerable people who rely on a multitude of government services seeming a distant concern to the people playing this game.