In response to the demands of the most conservative members of their caucus, House Republicans are preparing deeper spending cuts in their 2024 appropriations bills, setting up what could be an intense budgetary battle that one lawmaker likened to global war.
The move comes as members of the House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Commission insist that Republican appropriators stick to the 2022 discretionary spending level of $1.47 trillion — the target conservatives wanted but failed to hit during the debt-ceiling negotiations earlier this year. Instead, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to a discretionary spending level of $1.59 trillion for fiscal year 2024, angering conservatives who want to see bigger cuts in federal spending.
House conservatives are reportedly warning McCarthy that they will not accept the use of budgetary gimmicks, including recissions or clawbacks of unspent Covid and IRS funds, in place of genuine spending reductions.
"Folks ... want real spending cuts, and this place is famous for math that never really quite works out," Republican Study Commission Chair Kevin Hern told Axios’s Juliegrace Brufke. The vast majority of the Republican Study Commission — the largest GOP caucus and largest ideological caucus of any type in the House — oppose the use of clawbacks as a means of achieving savings.
In a letter to House Republican leadership sent last week, Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry and 20 other conservatives stated their position. “Rescissions are useful in reducing spending and we encourage their use, but we cannot support using them to shift funding to the very bureaucrats implementing the Biden agenda at roughly current levels of spending, thereby enshrining and continuing Democrats’ reckless inflationary spending,” they wrote.
One lawmaker said the coming fight over the final spending levels was going to be like “World War III.” Others have expressed doubt that the House would be able to finish its 12 spending bills before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, raising the specter of a government shutdown.
Earlier this week, McCarthy said he still hopes to pass the 12 spending bills on time but stepped back from his long-standing pledge to pass each one individually — something conservatives have long called for, to make it easier to amend the bills. The failure to pass the bills separately could be another flash point in the expected battle ahead.
To further complicate matters, lawmakers in the Senate are headed in the opposite direction, as they plan to push 2024 spending above the levels set by the debt-limit deal. Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray announced this week that she had reached an agreement with Sen. Susan Collins, the senior Republican on the committee, to add $13.7 billion in emergency spending to the 2024 funding package, with $8 billion going to defense and $5.7 billion going to non-defense programs.
The bottom line: Despite the bipartisan agreement on spending levels, the final 2024 spending package remains in flux. House Republicans still need to hash out the final form of their spending bills, which then need to be reconciled with the bills coming from the Senate. The fighting could get fierce, and last well into the fall.