House Republican revolt scrambles plan to prevent government shutdown

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Congress began leaving Washington on Thursday for the long holiday weekend without a plan for how to prevent a government shutdown next week, as a revolt over spending brewed among hard-right House Republicans.

Funding for 20 percent of the government is set to expire on Jan. 19, and the rest expires on Feb. 2. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. have agreed on an overall $1.66 trillion spending deal for the 2024 fiscal year, but lawmakers won’t have time to enact it before the deadlines.

So the Senate on Thursday took procedural steps to be able to pass a stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, to keep the government open while members work on long-term spending legislation. Members left town after that and are due to return on Tuesday.

But in the House, conservatives are pushing Johnson to renege on the budget deal. After stalling floor action on Wednesday in protest, they spent Thursday demanding that Johnson bow to their objections and touting plans to draft unspecified alternate ways to fund the government.

The House was scheduled to remain in Washington until Friday and will recess until Tuesday.

“There was 100 percent consensus in the room, with everyone who was in the room with the speaker, that the deal is terrible for the country,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., the Freedom Caucus chair. “I think [what] we ought to do is to fund the government at a level that cuts our spending year over year, that secures our border, and that we end the era of supplementals that increase spending outside the regular funding process.”

He told reporters later that the GOP should not be afraid of instigating a partial government shutdown if it could create leverage for spending cuts.

That left tensions simmering within the Republican conference and rekindled some of the anger that led to the ouster of Johnson’s predecessor, former congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., over far-right animus on spending deals.

“You’ve got a razor-thin majority and divided government, so he’s got a tough row to hoe, but my belief is [you’ve] got to lay out a vision of where you want to go, set the target and then go achieve it,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a leading spending hawk. “I’m not interested in just defaulting to whatever Chuck Schumer and [the] White House say when we have the House.”

Outside the Freedom Caucus, though, other House Republicans warned that rejecting the deal Johnson reached with Schumer could have negative political consequences.

“We took weeks off last fall to elect a new speaker. I mean, there’s no way to spin a partial government shutdown as anything other than Republicans in the House of Representatives can’t govern,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D.

The speaker and other Republican lawmakers said he had not made any commitments to drop the agreement but would hear out GOP members who want to reject it.

“We’re having thoughtful conversations about funding options and priorities. We had a cross-section of members in today,” Johnson said. “We’ll continue having cross-sections of members in, and while those conversations are going on, I’ve made no commitment. So if you hear otherwise, it’s just simply not true.”

Democrats openly marveled at Republicans’ bind.

“What is it that they don’t understand about governing and getting something done?” asked Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. “They don’t want to do nothing. They don’t know how to govern. They truly do want to shut the government down. No one on our side wants to do that. We’re trying to work very hard to get to sit down and get to a deal. It’s really, really incredible. … They should look for another job.”

Quipped Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who is set to retire in 2025 after nearly three decades in the House: “Hakeem Jeffries”—the House minority leader—”has the majority.”

President Biden and McCarthy landed on the overall budget structure in the spring as part of an agreement to suspend the debt limit. But the GOP conference’s right flank rejected it almost immediately, then ousted McCarthy from the speakership in October when he relied on Democratic support to enact a stopgap financing measure that didn’t cut spending. (McCarthy resigned from Congress at the end of last year.)

Congress passed a Johnson-backed CR in November that staggered government funding deadlines in an attempt to appease archconservatives, but the new speaker still needed votes from Democrats to pass the bill.

Now that law expires soon, and the Schumer-Johnson appropriations deal was supposed to set permanent spending levels until Sept. 30. Instead, when the deal was announced Sunday, seasoned legislators knew almost immediately another short-term law would be necessary.

“I think the timeline was clear that that would be very difficult, if not impossible,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., an appropriations subcommittee chair. “I wish we could get past the chaos in the House of Representatives and agree that keeping the government funded and open should be the minimum around here for doing your job.”

Johnson worked through the evening Wednesday and into early Thursday to understand hard-liners’ demands, which ranged from encouraging the speaker to renege on the entire funding proposal, giving the Freedom Caucus input on where funding is allotted—a job usually left to appropriators—or passing a one-year extension of current funding levels that would trigger a 1 percent cut across federal spending, according to multiple people familiar with the talks, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

At a meeting Thursday morning, roughly a dozen hard-liners told Johnson to go back to Schumer with a new top-line spending number. Others also insisted on attaching new immigration restrictions to any short-term funding bill, and some proposed drawing up a bare-bones bill to keep the government open—at lower spending levels than Johnson has agreed upon—while the speaker restarted talks with Schumer.

The Freedom Caucus members themselves are not entirely united on an approach, further complicating talks.

Multiple members said the speaker suggested during the hour-long meeting that he was open to incorporating their ideas.

“He listened when we had meetings. He knows we’re upset with the Schumer spending number. He knows we’re upset with no border,” Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., said. “He’s herding cats. I get that. But something’s got to give. And when they say, ‘government shutdown,’ there’s a lot of different variations on that.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., echoed that sentiment, saying Johnson—who has declared himself a MAGA conservative—claimed “he agreed with other conservatives, everything that we said,” and that she expected Republicans would ultimately draw up a new spending proposal.

Greene said she would work on a “very limited government funding deal” that “keeps the basic functions of the government going,” but declined to elaborate on what that would entail.

The meeting ultimately generated enough good will that most of the members who had blocked House business on Wednesday allowed it to resume on Thursday.

“I think that the fact that he’s given a meeting the fact that he’s, he’s demonstrating that he’s willing to listen to me and others is a promising sign. As long as that as long as that continues, I’m willing to vote in good faith,” Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Mo., said.

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One thought on “House Republican revolt scrambles plan to prevent government shutdown

  1. Republicans making a compelling case for why they should all resign and let their constituents pick better representatives.

    Again, the differences between them and a domestic terrorist organization get less and less by the day. Their way or the highway. No compromise. Give us what we want or we blow everyone including ourselves up.

    I agree, they should make it clear – lay our to the voters that you want to roll back Social Security and healthcare for old people. That’s their vision, get rid of everything that FDR and Johnson ever did. Let the voters judge them on that.

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