November 15, 2023
House sets up bruising 2024 spending fights
If you listen to Speaker Mike Johnson, his bill to avert a government shutdown — which passed the House with mostly Democratic votes Tuesday evening — will finally give the GOP majority the leverage it needs to cut spending and force major policy changes.
But Johnson has a big problem — there’s no evidence at this point that the two-step CR will do anything of the sort.
When the initial Jan. 19 funding deadline comes along — just 21 legislative days away under the current House calendar — Johnson will likely be in largely the same position he’s in now.
He’ll have a House Republican Conference that disagrees with his tactics and is unwilling to set aside its own short-term politics to seek a long-term funding deal. Just 57% of House Republicans voted for the CR Tuesday, hardly a mark of confidence in the new speaker.
House Republicans will only have a narrow four-seat majority by that point. And Johnson will still have a conference that is seeking steep spending cuts while the Senate is proceeding with bipartisan funding bills.
Johnson’s members have so far failed to pass some major spending bills, including the Labor-HHS, Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-HUD packages. The Senate will still be far more united than the fractured House.
Johnson couldn’t even pass a rule — a typically party-line procedural motion — for the CR this week. When it comes to actually winning a spending showdown with President Joe Biden and Democrats, Johnson and House Republicans are nowhere.
“Well, that’s a problem,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), referring to the narrow majority and the House’s inability to pass key appropriations bills.
The Senate will begin work today on the short-term CR, which sets Jan. 19 and Feb. 2 as funding deadlines. The White House is signaling it will back the measure, despite officials publicly bashing it previously.
By early next year, Johnson will have used up a significant amount of political capital to squeeze a clean CR through the House with just 127 of 221 GOP members, an embarrassing result for any Republican speaker. The House GOP Conference remains divided over aid to Ukraine and the reauthorization of FISA surveillance authority — not to mention the negotiated NDAA bill.
On top of that, Johnson declared Tuesday he won’t pass another short-term spending bill, adding even more pressure to an already tense situation.
In fact, it’s difficult to see any reason why January and February will be any better for House Republicans.
Johnson’s biggest challenge isn’t of his making, but he’s unable to avoid it either.
Biden and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy cut a deal in May on the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which lifted the debt limit and set out spending parameters for next year. It included proposed FY2024 spending levels that are supported by Biden, the Senate and House Democrats.
House Republicans, though, are intent on slashing tens of billions of dollars from that total, plus throwing in a lot of culture war provisions on climate change, transgender policy and other issues into appropriations bills. This guarantees the bills aren’t going anywhere, but House GOP lawmakers — pushed by hardline conservatives — keep trying.
Plus, the Senate is laboring to pass a huge national-security funding package that will include provisions conservatives hate — Ukraine aid, for example — as well as border-security changes that won’t go far enough for a lot of House Republicans.
“We’ll have a lot of the same issues we’re still dealing with now,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune said of the next funding clash. “There’s a ton of work to do. But I think keeping the government funded this week is a good starting point.”
For Thune’s chamber, having more time to debate FY2024 appropriations bills will be a benefit, especially since the Senate has only passed three of the 12 funding bills so far.
But Senate Republicans are also warning against the idea of a year-long CR, saying it would short-change the Pentagon. Some Republicans suggest that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is dragging his feet on FY2024 appropriations bills to force an omnibus.
“The Senate has got to continue to lead on this issue. If Sen. Schumer had rolled immediately into the next minibus, we would have finished it by the end of last week,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top GOP appropriator, told us. “I truly don’t understand it, other than maybe his preference is for an omnibus. But that’s certainly not the preference of most members.”
Senate appropriators have been discussing the idea of grouping the remaining funding bills into one legislative vehicle, but this could easily be dismissed by Johnson and House Republicans as an omnibus-like bill. Of course, it’s different from an omnibus in that each portion was approved overwhelmingly in committee.
And remember: the Four Corners have yet to agree to topline spending numbers, which needs to happen before the House and Senate can begin negotiations on their FY2024 bills. Senators believe they have the upper hand here because of how bipartisan their process has been.
“Maybe we don’t get them conferenced because the numbers are pretty far apart,” Thune said. “But at least when it comes time to write a final bill, we’ll be starting at benchmarks that were set by full involvement of all senators on both sides of the aisle, instead of having it written in Chuck Schumer’s office.”
— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan
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