Speaker Mike Johnson is the least experienced House speaker in modern history. And he’s just set up an extremely brutal four months to start 2024 that will test his leadership and the unity of the House Republican Conference. If there is any.
Since taking over as speaker, Johnson has passed just one bill that became law – a stopgap funding bill that looks less wise with the passage of time.
That bill, which bifurcated government funding deadlines between January and February, has created a nearly impossible first quarter of 2024. Instead of a busy two weeks before Christmas, Johnson has teed up a busy 14 weeks to begin the year.
Instead of allowing Republicans to focus on saving their razor-thin House majority in a presidential election year, Johnson is going to have a mad legislative rush with tons of tripwires.
January: Johnson sent the House home for 2023 without a deal on a topline spending number. In reality, the House and Senate will pass government funding at the levels mandated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Despite what conservatives seem to believe, that remains the law of the land.
But even more alarming than the lack of a topline number is that the leadership has no idea yet about how much money should be allocated to each of the 12 separate spending bills.
The House returns Jan. 9 and government funding runs out Jan. 19. In that brief time period, the leadership has to decide on the allocations and then reconcile the following spending bills between the House and Senate: Agriculture, Energy and Water, MilCon-VA and THUD.
It seems improbable, to put it mildly, that the two chambers can come to agreement on all four of these bills by Jan. 19. Johnson has said he won’t pass another short-term CR. So what are his options? A government shutdown or a yearlong CR. Neither is terribly attractive.
Also in January: If the Senate comes up with an immigration and foreign aid package this month, the House will have to consider it in January – or try to renegotiate it. What to do about Ukraine will be a very difficult choice for Johnson, pulling him either in the direction of GOP hawks or America First types.
How about a State of the Union? No date has been announced yet for President Joe Biden to come address Congress.
February: Two big issues for Johnson in February — another government funding deadline and impeachment.
In February, Congress will have to deal with a huge chunk of federal spending — eight spending bills, including the mammoth Pentagon and Labor-HHS bills. The challenges here are too numerous to enumerate. But in short, the Senate and House are on different planets on these bills.
In addition, Johnson likely will have to make a decision as to whether to hold a vote on impeaching President Joe Biden in February. Senior House GOP aides involved with the inquiry say they will be done with their investigation in January.
March: A slight reprieve for the House. The only deadline is the FAA’s reauthorization. That should be relatively easy – save for the DCA slot issue.
April: At some point, Johnson is going to have to tip his hand on where he stands on FISA. We don’t have to run down again how scattershot he’s been on this issue, but we’ll note he’s taken practically every side of the issue.
Overall, Johnson is facing a restive conference that’s looking for leadership but then gets angry with whoever makes a decision they don’t like. Which is basically every decision.
So 2024 is likely to be just as bad as 2023 for the speaker. Happy New Year!
– Jake Sherman