Disagreement among House Republicans over Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) two-step plan to extend government funding until next year is throwing Washington into uncertain territory ahead of a Friday shutdown deadline — a familiar pattern for the House GOP that is nonetheless creating the Speaker’s first major balancing act of his tenure.
Chances of a shutdown seemed to decrease Monday, as indications emerged that Democrats could help Johnson pass the two-step continuing resolution (CR) despite their reservations, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) saying he was “pleased” that Johnson was advancing a bill without spending cuts, and House Democratic leaders saying they were “carefully evaluating” the proposal.
But Johnson still faces a tricky path to final passage — and his handling of the stopgap will set the tone for how he handles the right flank and government funding issues going forward.
At least nine House Republicans had voiced their opposition to the plan as of Monday evening.
One of the nine, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), expressed disappointment with the new Speaker’s tactics. He criticized the bill for not including any changes to asylum policies or funding of the Department of Homeland Security, mentioning the recent deaths of two Americans in a head-on collision with a suspected migrant smuggling vehicle, which also killed the five migrants.
“It’s absurd that we’re continuing to fund that. Mike [Johnson] ought to know better, and Republicans who are thinking about supporting this ought to know better,” Roy said.
Johnson argues that the two-step plan is the best way to avert a massive omnibus funding package pushed by the Senate — a key demand of conservatives — and allows Congress more time to negotiate on fiscal 2024 funding after Republicans lost three weeks to finding a replacement for ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
“The two-step CR is a way to get the broken appropriations process back on track without resulting in a massive omnibus spending bill,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), an architect of the two-step plan, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Under the CR, part of government funding would run out Jan. 19, with the rest running out Feb. 2 — a concept that members of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus initially embraced.
But now, many of those members in the right flank are enraged that the bill extends funding at current levels — dubbing it a “clean” CR — without shooting for conservative policy concessions or making substantial cuts to spending.
“I will not support a status quo that fails to acknowledge fiscal irresponsibility, and changes absolutely nothing while emboldening a do-nothing Senate and a fiscally illiterate President,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said on X.
More than enough House Republicans have expressed opposition to the plan to make GOP leadership need to rely on Democratic votes in order to pass the bill.
Democrats and the White House have sharply criticized the two-step CR, with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling it “a recipe for more Republican chaos and more shutdowns.” If it does not pass, Congress will have to scramble to come up with an alternative plan to avoid a shutdown the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday.
But President Biden told reporters Monday that he would not make a determination about whether he would veto the bill if it came to his desk, and Democratic leaders in both chambers declined to flatly oppose the bill.
Though the two-deadline approach concerns Democrats, and the bill does not include the funding for Israel and Ukraine that they would have liked to see, there is little else in it for them to oppose.
“For now, I am pleased that Speaker Johnson seems to be moving in our direction by advancing a CR that doesn’t include the highly partisan cuts that Democrats have warned against,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
A “Dear Colleague” letter from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) on Monday said they found the two-step proposal “troublesome” but did not fully oppose it.
They said they were “carefully evaluating” the bill.
One House Democrat told The Hill on Monday that he will vote for the stopgap: Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who is mounting a long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But getting Democratic votes on the bill’s final passage is only one challenge for House GOP leaders.
First, the House GOP needs to pass the procedural “rule,” which governs how a bill is considered on the House floor and is generally unanimously opposed by members of the minority party, despite how they might vote on the underlying legislation.
Roy on Monday said he would vote against the rule on the House floor, and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said he would likely oppose it. Republicans can only afford to lose three GOP votes on the rule and still see the legislation advance, assuming full attendance and unified Democratic opposition.
To avoid a failed rule vote, House Republicans could bring up the CR under a fast-track procedure called suspension of the rules — but it would need support from two-thirds of the House in order to pass.
House GOP leaders were exploring that option Monday, according to House Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.).
Pursuing such a move would require support from dozens of Democrats for passage — and could further inflame the right flank. Roy said that bringing the bill up under suspension “would be a very bad idea.”
Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, said Republicans “may not have any other choice” but to bring the CR up under suspension.
In one sense, avoiding a government shutdown and getting agreement from Democrats would be a victory for Johnson.
Republicans have generally not politically benefited from forcing shutdowns in years past, and it would force Democrats who had fiercely criticized Johnson personally, as well as his stopgap approach, to accept his strategy.
Still, working with Democrats risks turning Republicans who helped elect Johnson to the Speakership against him, and eroding confidence in his ability to negotiate concessions down the line.
One key question will be whether more Democrats support the bill than Republicans — a dynamic that had prompted fierce criticism of McCarthy multiple times this year.
McCarthy was ousted in the wake of fury at his decision to move a “clean” CR with the support of Democrats at the last funding deadline in September.
Norman said he is not yet satisfied with how the new GOP leadership is handling the fiscal issues that matter most to him.
“I’m very frustrated that we don’t have top lines” on full-year appropriations, Norman said.
But even those who are most vocally opposed to the stopgap plan are not ready to float replacing Johnson with a different Speaker.
“I’m not gonna go down that road,” Roy said.
“He inherited a bad situation,” Norman said.
Mike Lillis and Mychael Schnell contributed.