House Republicans are grappling with the same battles over government funding that led to the chaotic ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), seemingly cutting short the honeymoon of new Speaker Mike Johnson (R-N. of Los Angeles).
GOP leaders this week withdrew two spending bills amid disputes over spending and other controversial policy points. With a government funding deadline less than a week away, the conference appears hopelessly divided on how to avoid a shutdown.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), shortly after GOP leaders withdrew a funding bill Thursday, said he thought Johnson would enjoy a 30-day honeymoon.
“With what’s happening today, I think it indicates that the honeymoon might be shorter than we thought,” he then added.
For months, members of the party’s right wing have thwarted their leaders’ efforts to pass partisan financing plans. Passage of these bills, their leaders argued, would increase their influence with Senate Democrats.
Now centrists in the House Republican Party, who had long acquiesced to the demands of the right wing under McCarthy, are indicating they are no longer willing to do so under Johnson.
“We, the main line or front line guys… in Biden districts, we’re not going to get stepped on anymore,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said before the House left the city Thursday.
“There has to be a compromise,” he told reporters, saying goodbye to the idea that “everything has to be aligned with the Freedom Caucus — that doesn’t work.”
The most immediate issue for Johnson is passing a stopgap bill to avoid a government shutdown before the Nov. 17 deadline.
Johnson has two main options for an interim measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), that would allow the government to continue operating: a “ladder” approach that would fund part of the government until a date and the rest to another, or a more “clean” RC approach that includes conservative policy priorities.
But Republicans are divided on these options. Veteran appropriators balked at the idea of a phased CR approach, while hardliners praised it and rejected the idea of “clean” CR.
Johnson’s challenge, like McCarthy’s, is how to placate his members while pushing through a stopgap that can pass the Democratic-controlled Senate by the end of Friday.
Bacon said he and other moderates were working on language for an alternative stopgap that could gain support from Democrats. It would combine legislation creating a commission to deal with the national debt with an expansion of clean financing.
Johnson was pressed on both sides of his conference.
Conservatives are demanding spending cuts and other provisions that moderates balk at.
The bill withdrawn Thursday would have funded the Treasury Department and the General Services Administration – which manages government buildings. It included a policy component that would have struck down a Washington, D.C., law aimed at preventing employer discrimination based on reproductive health care decisions.
Moderates opposed the bill because of that language, particularly after the GOP’s losses in Tuesday’s election were largely blamed on Republicans’ handling of abortion.
Some conservatives, meanwhile, opposed the bill because it did not contain language prohibiting funding for a new FBI headquarters.
Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) said he expects the abortion language in the bill “to be removed” and that members could “vote on it as part of the an amendment process next week.”
“And then, if this is put into the bill, we will at least have had the opportunity to vote against this amendment,” he said. “There’s a good chance most of these things won’t make it past the conference anyway.”
Earlier in the week, a group of moderates challenged another Department of Transportation funding bill that included deep cuts to Amtrak funding.
“They can’t just work with these 20 guys on the other side,” Bacon said. He also expressed optimism about potential changes that could be made to help put the bill “in a better position next week.”
But any changes that could lead to increased funding are sure to anger some hard-line conservatives, as the right wing continues its crusade to dramatically reduce overall funding levels.
After the vote on the bill earlier this week, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) told The Hill that he also does not support the bill in its “current form,” saying that he “had to further reduce expenses.” even as he proposes withdrawing and reallocating billions of dollars in IRS funding approved by Democrats in the last Congress.
This back-and-forth underscores the heavy burden Johnson will face in satisfying the party’s various factions, even after dealing with the government’s latest funding deadline.
Some House Republicans have put a positive spin on their struggles, even though they have yet to pass five of their 12 annual funding bills.
“We passed 90 percent of the federal budget; the Senate passed 17 percent. I suspect they may want to catch up, and we’ll need more time to finish the job,” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) argued to reporters this week.
But since spending limits were abandoned in the budget caps compromise negotiated by the Biden and McCarthy administrations earlier this year, the Republican-led House has yet to reach agreement on overall spending levels. funding, not to mention a bicameral agreement.
Hard-line conservatives have pushed for more drastic cuts in the pending bills, which also contain thorny provisions in policy areas that have played a role in the internal Republican Party resistance that led leaders to cancel scheduled votes on funding bills this week.
Between the House and Senate, there is only one bill that both chambers have passed and that some are pushing for both parties to enter into conference: the military construction bill and the Veterans Affairs funding for fiscal year 2024. But that figure could change in the coming weeks as some The Upper House, which passed its first three annual funding bills earlier this month, considers a larger package for its nine remaining bills.
Sen. John Boozman (Ark.), the top Republican on the subcommittee that oversees VA funding in the upper chamber, told The Hill on Thursday that some conversations about funding had taken place “informally” among the two rooms. But he also recognized the limits of the absence of a bicameral agreement.
At some point, he said, “you have to establish a revenue number, and then you can’t go any further until you know how much money you’re going to spend.”
Although Republicans were eager to coalesce around Johnson and end the President’s three-week saga that paralyzed the House in October, they made little progress in resolving their underlying tensions.
Asked if Johnson’s honeymoon was over, Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) said, “Maybe it is for some members.”
“Mike has a tough job. I have to pray for him this weekend. Man, this guy is probably wondering what did I do? What did I do?” Nehls said. “I don’t think the Lord Jesus himself could handle this group.”
Mychael Schnell and Mike Lillis contributed.
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