The radical Republicans willing to shut down Washington

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One is a 36-year old former restaurateur who won notoriety for carrying a gun into Congress to assert her constitutional right to bear arms. Another is a Florida lawyer who gained a new lease on political life after federal authorities dropped a long-running investigation into alleged sex trafficking. Then there is the Donald Trump loyalist from Georgia, who has toned down her fiery rhetoric and grown closer to party leadership in recent months, but is suddenly agitating again on Capitol Hill.

Along with a dozen or so less well-known Republicans in the House of Representatives — mostly staunch conservatives with hardline views on everything from immigration to federal spending — these are the people willing to take America to the brink of another budgetary crisis by halting funding for the government of the world’s largest economy.

The rebels are the modern Republican party’s equivalent of Tea Party conservatives who drove the US to several budgetary crises under Barack Obama, including a 16-day government shutdown in October 2013.

Some say they are a Republican version of the Democratic party’s “squad” of leftwing representatives. But while that group sought to drag the Democratic party in a more radical direction on policy, it did not use its leverage to grind the government to a halt.

That may happen by Sunday. Millions of people would go unpaid. Funding for Ukraine’s war could be slashed. Basic operations in everything from US federal parks and museums to collecting labour market data would cease.

Goldman Sachs reckons the shutdown would shave 0.2 per cent off quarterly annualised GDP growth for each week it endures. The last one, from late December 2018 to late January 2019, lasted 35 days.

The mechanics that could bring the US government to a halt this weekend are arcane, and the politics complex. Congress and the White House need to renew funding for the next fiscal year, which begins on Sunday. But lawmakers have been unable to agree on the legislation, or even a stop-gap measure to keep the current levels of funding into the next fiscal year.

Hardline Republicans are demanding huge cuts to government agencies, as well as big boosts to border enforcement and less Ukraine aid in exchange for their support. But this would be unpalatable to Democrats and even some mainstream Republicans, and the stand-off is yet to be resolved.

For Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House speaker, it is a moment of truth. He may have to decide whether to side with the rebels, leading to an extended shutdown that could damage the party’s national reputation, or strike a deal with Democrats that could prompt hardliners to oust him from the speakership. With a slim Republican majority in the House, the rebels have power. And McCarthy has very limited room for manoeuvre.

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