EDITOR’S NOTE : A quote in this story from U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer has been corrected to read that “we’re not marking up appropriations bills at levels that were agreed upon” in a bipartisan agreement. It also clarifies the Recompete grant application on the North Olympic Peninsula.
PORT ANGELES — Though Congress has been able to pass some major legislation in the past 2½ years, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer said partisan gridlock may lead to a government shutdown at the end of the September.
Speaking to a meeting of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Kilmer — who emphasized bipartisanship throughout his remarks — said some far-right Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have walked back spending agreements reached earlier this year in a bill to increase the debt limit, and were drafting spending bills that he believes have little chance of passing the Senate or being signed by the president.
“So what’s happening in appropriations right now is that we’re not marking up appropriations bills at levels that were agreed upon in that bipartisan agreement,” said Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, referring to the debt limit bill that was passed in June.
“If we’re going to avoid continuing resolutions or even worse, government shutdowns, we’ve got to get serious and pass bills that aren’t designed to make a political statement but are designed to become law, and right now that’s not happening in the House,” said Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
A small number of House Republicans in what’s known as the Freedom Caucus is driving the legislation further to the right, Kilmer said, and the Republican leadership has not yet reached out to Democrats to draft bipartisan bills that might pass the Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by Democratic President Joe Biden.
“They’ve also loaded them up with a bunch of issues unrelated to appropriations,” Kilmer said.
“Basically every bill has become an anti-choice bill, has become an anti-LGBT community bill,” he added, “all of these provisions that have nothing to do with the spending levels but are just trying to get some of their very far-right members to vote for the bills.”
Kilmer said the center-left New Democrat Coalition — of which he’s vice chair for policy — has sent a letter to House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., urging him to work across the aisle on bills that have a better chance of passing the Democratic-controlled branches of government.
Currently, Kilmer said, Democrats are not involved in the appropriations process in the House, as opposed to the Senate, where Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and is drafting legislation with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Despite the partisan division in Washington, D.C., Kilmer said Congress has been able to pass historic legislation in the past two years, adding that much of which was directly impacting the Olympic Peninsula.
Using funds from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe was awarded more than $25 million to replace the Big Quilcene River Bridge and the Jefferson County Public Utility District has been using federal grants to expand its fiber optic network.
A bill originally drafted by Kilmer in 2021 — the Rebuilding Economies and Creating Opportunities for More People to Excel, or RECOMPETE Act — was included as a pilot program in the 2022 Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act, or CHIPS and Science Act.
That program will offer grants for up to five years for economically distressed communities to boost economic development and local employment.
In July, county commissioners from both Clallam and Jefferson counties agreed to collaborate on a joint application for planning grants to the Recompete Pilot Program, which could provide between $250,000 and $750,000 in grant funding.If accepted, Recompete grants could provide between $25 million and $75 million for economic development.
Kilmer said he is hopeful that Congress can still be effective despite party divisions.
“I just think that we’ve got to get past some of the partisan bickering and get more focused on making progress and solving problems,” Kilmer said.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.