House Republicans held a closed-door meeting of their members Tuesday morning as they look to settle on a strategy for dealing with the looming November 17 deadline to fund the government and avoid a shutdown.
House Speaker Mike Johnson emerged from that meeting saying that his conference wants to avert a shutdown and is committed to providing aid to Israel as well — but that he wasn’t yet ready to reveal the party’s plan with 10 days to go before the deadline.
“We had a very — I would call it a refreshing, constructive family conversation in our House Republican Conference meeting,” Johnson said, noting that the group had discussed the “many options” available and he would reveal his plan in short order. “Trust us. We’re working through the process in a way that I think the people will be proud of,” Johnson added.
In other words, Republicans are again divided over how to approach spending bills and avoid a shutdown — a scenario similar to the one that resulted in the ouster of former speaker Kevin McCarthy after a vote to keep the government open at the end of September. “There's too many ideas right now, which is fine — the speaker wants us to have an open forum to debate it,” said Rep. Richard McCormick of Georgia, according to Politico. “But now there's so many ideas, we have to figure out how to whittle it down.” Rep. Drew Ferguson, also of Georgia, reportedly described the path forward as “clear as mud.”
The new speaker doesn’t face the same threat since hardliners have indicated they will give him more leeway, at least initially, but it’s not yet clear whether he can unite his conference or reach a solution that can get through the Senate. “The same battle lines are there: Some members are embracing a clean, short-term spending bill, while others are already vehemently opposed,” Politico’s Olivia Beavers and Jordain Carney report.
Some of the options Johnson discussed at his news conference are likely to be non-starters on the other side of the Capitol.
Johnson said that one idea he has floated, a “laddered” continuing resolution, would involve two phases, with some agencies funded into December and others into January. That plan, reportedly favored by the members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is meant to encourage lawmakers to work toward passing regular annual appropriations bills and to keep the Senate from jamming the House with the kind of mammoth year-end spending package that conservatives fervently want to avoid. Still some proponents reportedly prefer that the first deadline be set in January and the second later on in 2024.
Appropriators in both the House and Senate have panned the “laddered” approach, suggesting that it would make funding the government more difficult and set up a constant threat of rolling agency shutdowns. “Congress has a hard time walking and chewing gum,” Rep. Steve Womack, an Arkansas Republican, told The Hill. “How are we going to juggle multiple deadlines and different approaches?”
The other option Johnson mentioned is a continuing resolution that would extend into January “with certain stipulations” — conservative policy provisions such as border security measures or a debt commission that could set the stage for negotiations with the Senate (or not). Some centrist members may favor a “clean” CR, but lawmakers on the far right are making clear that they oppose the idea.
“There continue to be a pretty wide range of views about what we should do,” Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota said, according to The Hill. Another House Republican told Politico: “We are all over the place, like usual.”
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are reportedly aiming to pass a short-term funding bill that would only stretch until early December and allow for the annual appropriations process to be completed by the end of the year, likely via a “megabus” or “maxibus” that rolls up the chamber’s nine remaining annual spending bills. The two chambers must also hash out national security and domestic supplemental funding plans, including the Biden administration’s requests for aid to Israel and Ukraine.
The bottom line: House Republicans will have to formulate a plan quickly, and Johnson could still find himself facing a similar choice to the one that doomed McCarthy, forced to decide between appeasing his most conservative members or enacting policies with bipartisan support.