At Punchbowl News, we take pride in our ability to follow the twists and turns of legislative debates. No matter how illogical everything seems, we find a way to keep track of the ups and downs. It’s what we do.
But this current government funding debate is setting a new standard for inanity.
Let’s take stock of where things stand. We recommend a cup of coffee while you read this. Maybe throw in a drop of something stronger.
Speaker Mike Johnson cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to fund spending for FY2024 basically at Fiscal Responsibility Act levels. There were $16 billion of additional cuts and rescissions that Democrats threw in to allow Johnson to claim some wins.
Johnson sent out a letter Sunday saying he had “secured hard-fought concessions.” He took to the House Republican Conference to sell the deal. Johnson went on Fox News to say Republicans have to be responsible and govern.
But by Thursday, Johnson was holed up in his office with hardline House Republicans who were imploring the speaker to abandon the spending deal. Johnson said after the meeting that he made “no commitment” to walk away from his agreement with Schumer.
Yet the conservative GOP lawmakers leaving the meeting said Johnson was at least interested in hearing alternatives to his deal with Schumer, which led to an angry pushback from Democrats. So whether he actually made the commitment or not, Republicans thought Johnson was open to it. This also blew open a rift with the GOP moderates who want to stick with the spending agreement.
In that meeting, Johnson also said his personal preference was to pass a clean year-long CR — which would also represent walking away from the deal — but he lacked the votes to get it across the finish line.
Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee, led by Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), marched into Johnson’s office to tell him they’d kill any yearlong CR because it freezes defense spending.
Meanwhile, Schumer filed cloture Thursday on a legislative vehicle that will become a short-term CR. We hear the CR will last until March 1 or March 15.
Johnson hasn’t made his decision as to what he wants, according to Johnson aides and sources in all the other leadership offices. We checked with his office and they said several dates are under consideration. But House Republicans are already getting jammed by the Senate, which will move Tuesday to begin the process of passing the CR.
We understand the dilemma that Johnson is in here. As of a few months ago, he was a rank-and-file House Republican. Now he’s in the middle of a legislative debate against veteran pols with a conference that’s bitterly divided following the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the bloody battle to replace him.
But the lack of guidance about next steps is grating on everyone in the House and increasingly in the Senate.
Here’s Senate Minority Whip John Thune on Johnson:
By Saturday evening or so, Schumer has to make a decision on the length of the stopgap measure. Remember, Johnson hasn’t even definitively said he’d take up the CR.
Johnson keeps saying that he’ll fight the Senate to win Republican policy priorities. One Democrat put it to us this way: If Johnson can pass the funding bills on his own, he can fight for GOP policy riders. Otherwise, he should give up.
— Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Andrew Desiderio