GOP Speaker Gets a Win, With a Big Help From Democrats

GOP Speaker Gets a Win, With a Big Help From Democrats

By Michael Rainey
Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Good evening. Amid a flurry of legislative activity in Washington, things got a little testy on Capitol Hill today, with Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin challenging a witness at a hearing to a fight and former House leader Kevin McCarthy being accused of shoving a fellow lawmaker in a hallway. Things went more smoothly on the floor of the House as lawmakers passed a bill that is expected to head off a government shutdown at the end of the week.

Here’s what you need to know.

Johnson Gets a Win on Government Funding, With a Big Help From Democrats

The House on Tuesday passed a short-term funding bill that would keep the government open into early next year. The unconventional piece of legislation was pushed through the House by Speaker Mike Johnson despite significant opposition from many of his fellow conservative Republicans, as Democrats stepped in to rescue the continuing resolution and head off a potential government shutdown at the end of this week.

The bill arrived on the floor under rules that required a two-thirds majority to advance. The final vote was 336 to 95, easily clearing the requirement, with Democrats providing 209 of the ‘yes’ votes. Only 127 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, with 93 voting against, according to the preliminary tally. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

Johnson said that the slim majority held by Republicans forced him to offer a bipartisan bill that failed to meet the expectations of many within his party. "When you have a three-vote majority — as we do right now — we don’t have the votes," he said. "So what we need to do is avoid the government shutdown."

Here’s a rundown on key details:

* The bill is ‘clean’: The funding bill will maintain current spending levels and contains no amendments addressing thorny issues such as border policy and aid for Ukraine and Israel. That helped the bill advance by eliminating sources of friction for various House constituencies, but it also inspired the far-right House Freedom Caucus and other ultraconservative Republicans to reject the bill. "The House Freedom Caucus opposes the proposed 'clean' Continuing Resolution as it contains no spending reductions, no border security, and not a single meaningful win for the American People," the group said in a statement.

At the same time, maintaining funding levels was necessary to win Democratic support. "The numbers seem to be pretty good to me," said Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts before the vote. "None of their bulls*** MAGA culture wars are in this bill, so when all is said and done, I'm inclined to probably vote for it."

Democratic leaders and the White House also signaled their support for the bill. "The proposal before the House does two things Democrats pushed for," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said. "We all want to avoid a shutdown. I talked to the White House and both of us agree, the White House and myself, that if this can avoid a shutdown it’ll be a good thing."

* The funding plan is ‘laddered’: The bill funds some federal departments until January, while others get funding into February. Military construction, veterans’ affairs, transportation, housing and the Energy Department would be funded until January 19, and everything else would be funded until February 2. That means that while there are potentially two possible shutdown deadlines in early 2024, lawmakers will avoid a pre-holiday rush to pass a massive compromise spending bill, as has happened in the past.

"We are not going to have a massive omnibus spending bill right before Christmas," Johnson said. "That is a gift to the American people. Because that is no way to legislate. It is not good stewardship."

* House rules were suspended: Republicans on the House Rules Committee indicated that they would reject the bill, so Johnson used a procedure known as suspension of the rules to advance the bill to the House floor. The suspension means that the bill could not be amended and required two-thirds rather than majority support – a threshold that by definition required a significant number of Democratic votes.

* A strange sense of déjà vu: Speaker Mike Johnson finds himself in much the same position as his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, who was forced out after he passed a clean funding bill with help from Democrats. But Johnson appears safe from retaliation from right-wingers, at least for now. "This is not grade school, where if you don't like the results of your kickball game, you take the ball with you and go home," Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida told Axios.

* Democrats celebrate: Rep. Steny Hoyer, a long-time Democratic leader in the House, said the vote shows that Republicans need Democrats to get things done. "What we’ve seen is they cannot do rational policy without our votes," he said. "We’re hoisted on the petard of a large number of nihilists in the Republican Party."

* Plenty left to do: The slimmed-down bill will likely keep the doors open in the government for a few months, but it leaves many pressing questions unanswered. A brief list of the many issues Congress still needs to address soon includes aid for Ukraine, aid for Israel, aid for Taiwan, funding and policy at the southern border, FAA reauthorization and, eventually, bills providing government funding for the rest of the 2024 fiscal year.

Inflation Eases in October

The Consumer Price Index was flat in October, rising 0% on a monthly basis, down from the 0.4% rate recorded in September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Tuesday. On a year-over-year basis, the inflation rate dropped to 3.2%, down from 3.7% in September.

A big drop in prices for fuel, used cars and airfare and a sharp slowdown in the pace of increases in food and shelter prices were major factors in the results.

The closely watched core CPI rate – which leaves out volatile food and fuel prices to provide a clearer picture of the underlying inflation trend – increased 0.2% on a monthly basis and 4% on an annual basis. Both numbers were better than expected, with the annual result hitting its lowest level in two years.

What the experts are saying: Overall, the response to the report was positive, if not downright celebratory, with stocks staging a major rally on the news as traders bet that the Federal Reserve was finished with rate hikes.

"If one was looking for evidence of a soft landing and a sustained economic expansion, look no further than the October consumer price index," RSM chief economist Joseph Brusuelas wrote. "Sustained improvement in the overall inflation outlook underscores our view that the Federal Reserve will remain on pause at its December policy meeting and should be done hiking rates as the economic expansion continues."

"A great number," said Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning think tank. "Pay particular attention to the 6-month trend, which [Fed Chair Jay] Powell had emphasized was stuck throughout 2022. At the beginning of this year, the 6-month core CPI reading was 5.3 percent; it's now 3.2 percent, even as the economy added 1.9 million jobs."

"Inflation's receding, baby," said University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers. "The underlying trend is inflation returning to near normal."

Still, no one expects the Federal Reserve to soften its stance on inflation any time soon. "Despite the deceleration, the Fed will likely continue to speak hawkishly and will keep warning investors not to be complacent about the Fed’s resolve to get inflation down to the long-run 2% target," Jeffrey Roach, chief economist at LPL Financial, said, per CNBC.

And some Fed officials have expressed doubts that the battle against inflation is over. "I’m just not convinced that inflation is on some smooth glide path down to 2%," Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Thomas Barkin said Tuesday. "The inflation numbers have come down, but much of the drop has been partial reversal of Covid-era price spikes, which were driven by elevated demand and supply shortages. Shelter and shelter inflation remain higher than historic levels, so does services inflation."

The bottom line: More good news on inflation, but it’s probably too early to declare victory.


Number of the Day: $150 Billion

The cost of climate change in the U.S. is high and rising, according to the Fifth National Climate Assessment, released this week. The assessment is produced every four years by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, as required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990.

"In the 1980s, the country experienced, on average, one (inflation-adjusted) billion-dollar disaster every four months. Now, there is one every three weeks, on average," the report says. "Between 2018 and 2022, the US experienced 89 billion-dollar events. Extreme events cost the US close to $150 billion each year—a conservative estimate that does not account for loss of life, healthcare-related costs, or damages to ecosystem services."

Even though the U.S. is starting to reduce its planet-warming pollution, it is doing so gradually, and the effects of climate change will worsen over the next 10 years, the report says. The scientists who contributed to the analysis called on U.S. leaders to take much bolder steps to mitigate the effects.

Speaking at the White House Tuesday, President Joe Biden highlighted the report as he discussed $6 billion in new federal spending intended to help communities deal with climate change. "This assessment shows us in clear scientific terms, that climate change is impacting all regions, all sectors of the United States," he said. "We’ve come to the point where it’s foolish for anyone to deny the impacts of climate change anymore."

Fiscal News Roundup

Views and Analysis