WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon were poised to pass new Speaker Mike Johnson’s bill to avert a government shutdown, punting the GOP’s spending fight until after the holidays.
The so-called laddered continuing resolution, or CR, would fund part of the government — including the Agriculture, Transportation and Veterans Affairs departments — through Jan. 19, and fund the Defense Department and other remaining parts of the government through Feb. 2.
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The CR is “clean,” with no spending cuts or contentious policy provisions that would alienate Democrats. It also does not include a supplemental package covering things like aid for Israel and Ukraine, humanitarian assistance or border security, leaving those issues for later in the year.
Keeping the government’s lights on into the New Year would buy more time for House Republicans to pass all 12 appropriations bills and for House and Senate negotiators to hammer out a broader deal. The CR also will give agitated lawmakers, who’ve been in session for 10 straight weeks, a chance to take a break from one another.
“I’ve been drinking from Niagara Falls the last three weeks. This will allow everybody to go home for a couple of days for Thanksgiving, everybody cool off,” Johnson, R-La., told reporters.
“Members have been here … for 10 weeks. This place is a pressure cooker,” he said. “And so I think everybody can go home, we can come back, reset. … We’re going to map out that plan to fight for those principles.”
House leaders have structured the CR vote so that it will need support from two-thirds of the entire House to pass. Because conservatives are rebelling against Johnson’s funding bill, he will need significant backing from Democrats.
If the CR passes the House, it will head to the Senate, which will need to send it to President Joe Biden’s desk by Friday night to avert a shutdown.
Publicly, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., is saying that Democrats are still evaluating Johnson’s proposal. But inside a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, Jeffries told rank-and-file Democrats of the CR, “This is OK. We can live with this,” according to a member of his leadership team in attendance.
A handful of Democrats leaving the caucus said they would be on board.
“We’ve made clear that there should be no spending cuts. And we’ve made clear that there should be no poisonous political partisan policy provisions,” Jeffries told reporters after the meeting.
In the room, two top appropriators — Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. — argued that Democrats can’t be a “cheap date” and help Johnson pass CR without getting something in return, according to a source present. DeLauro and Wasserman Schultz said they wanted a path forward on topline spending numbers and agreements on funding caps for the 12 spending bills, while others pushed for assurances that the House will vote on Israel and Ukraine aid.
Johnson’s clean CR will rely on Democratic votes, just as the last funding bill that cost former Speaker Kevin McCarthy his job in early October. The House conservatives who helped oust McCarthy from power despise CRs in general, and on Tuesday morning, the far-right House Freedom Caucus said that its members had taken a position opposing the laddered CR, even though it was originally proposed by Freedom Caucus members.
It “contains no spending reductions, no border security, and not a single meaningful win for the American People,” the Freedom Caucus said in its statement.
Defending his strategy, Johnson argued that this CR would help Republicans tackle spending and debt in the future.
“We are not surrendering, we are fighting. But you have to be wise about choosing the fights,” the speaker said. “You got to fight fights that you can win.”
“This was a very important first step to get us to the next stage so that we can change how Washington works,” he said.
But with Johnson in the job for less than three weeks, there’s been no discussion among Republicans about an effort to remove him over the CR.
“I don’t like the bill. I like Speaker Johnson,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy. “Speaker Johnson has been on the job for what, two or three weeks now? … The reason why Speaker Johnson finds himself in the position he is in is because of nine months of failure under Speaker McCarthy.”
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., another one of the group McCarthy has dubbed the “Hateful Eight,” also cast blame on the former speaker.
“Speaker McCarthy had since January and then he started working on it two weeks out before the deadline and after we had taken six weeks off, and dagnabbit, we should have been here working,” Burchett said.
“I think people will be unhappy and uncomfortable with it,” Burchett said of Johnson’s CR, but he added that he thinks Johnson will survive through the 2024 election.
“I think he’s going to be a great speaker,” he said.