Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is on his third strategy to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month after suffering a series of defeats handed to him by conservatives in his own conference.
He was forced to punt a procedural vote on a GOP-only stopgap plan, and found sustained opposition even after proposing adjustments. He watched a Pentagon spending bill go down on a procedural vote — submarined by his own members — twice in three days.
Now, McCarthy plans to bring up several full-year appropriations bills for fiscal 2024 in the coming days — capitulating to the demands of dug-in conservatives.
If those bills can pass the House, McCarthy and his allies believe it could buy them some goodwill and possibly convince the holdouts to approve a GOP-only stopgap measure.
But there’s no guarantee the strategy will work.
And even if the House passes a partisan stopgap bill, the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House are certain to reject it, leaving Congress no closer to averting a government shutdown after Sept. 30.
It is the latest sign of McCarthy’s struggles to keep his narrow majority together — and keep his gavel — amid the chaos caused by his own members.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Calif.) has explicitly threatened to force a vote to oust McCarthy if he does not “comply” with hard-liners’ demands.
And on the other end of the spectrum, at least one moderate Republican has indicated they are ready to work with Democrats to force a vote on an alternative bipartisan continuing resolution plan as Republicans remain unable to pass even party-line measures.
“It’s a soap opera,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a House appropriator.
“What do you guys want to call this? … ‘All My Children?’ Has that already been taken?”
The chaos has led Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to prepare a path for a continuing resolution (CR) to start in the Senate rather than the House, where funding bills normally originate.
McCarthy has openly aired his frustrations with his caucus.
“This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down,” McCarthy told reporters after the failed vote — before adding that he would solve the “challenge.”
After Thursday’s failed rule vote on the Pentagon funding bill, GOP leaders essentially canceled plans for votes Friday and Saturday — while keeping members “on call” — as McCarthy assembled House appropriations subcommittee leaders while other Republicans hashed out the details of their new plan for their next steps.
Largely putting aside any focus on a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government after Sept. 30, the lawmakers are figuring out how to move forward on appropriations bills — answering calls from a band of “never CR” Republicans to just pass full-year appropriations bills through the House.
Conservatives have expressed frustration that the House has not done more to pass the full slate of appropriations bills — only one has cleared the chamber thus far — after the Speaker committed to moving through the regular appropriations process during the drawn-out Speaker’s race in January.
“We have to break this town of its continuing resolution habit,” Gaetz said. “Continuing resolutions are like Lay’s potato chips: You don’t stop at just one.”
The new plan, according to Gaetz, would be to pass a combined rule that allows for consideration of four appropriations bills: Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, State and Foreign Operations, and either Agriculture or Energy and Water. Those bills would be marked to fit in a $1.526 trillion discretionary spending threshold that conservatives signal they could accept.
The Rules Committee is slated to meet at 1 p.m. to take up the four measures.
The calculus behind the strategy, according to an appropriator, is that moving ahead with individual spending bills could soften the stances of some members who are opposed to a continuing resolution, driving them to the negotiating table.
“I think getting through the formalities and our responsibilities of bringing the appropriation packages to the floor for up-down votes a-la-carte, individually, is important to at least allow some of these hard-line, never-CR folks, to at least squint and go ‘OK, we at least did our job but now we’re going into a battle with the Senate. Here’s what our CR package would look like,’” said Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
Conservatives welcomed the third-string strategy Thursday, lauding the focus on the individual appropriations bills and praising the conversations that were ongoing behind the scenes. But whether the show of good faith is enough to sway “never CR” lawmakers remains an open question.
Gaetz lauded the effort — “God Bless America” he wrote on social media in response to the strategy — but still expressed opposition to a continuing resolution.
“I’m giving a eulogy for the CR right now that I’ve invited you to,” he told reporters.
“I’m not voting for a continuing resolution, and a sufficient number of Republicans will never vote for a continuing resolution,” he added.
The Florida Republican presented the current situation as Republicans having to choose between moving single-subject spending bills or teaming up with Democrats on a discharge petition for a continuing resolution — the latter of which became a heightened threat Thursday afternoon.
“If there is not going to be a CR coming out of the House Republican caucus, then I will move forward with a discharge petition,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) told reporters.
But despite the full-court press to implement the nascent strategy, lawmakers — even staunch conservatives — are acknowledging that none of their weekend work will help stave off an end-of-the-month shutdown.
Confronted with The Hill pressing on the point that none of what House Republicans are expected to work on over the coming days will keep the lights on in Washington, Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) responded: “I think that’s generally correct.”
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) has indicated that he is against any short-term funding strategy that does not include legislation that can pass in the Senate.
“The question is: What percentage would you give this bill of actually going anywhere?” Gonzales said of a GOP-only stopgap. “Please tell me if somebody says anything other than zero.”
Aris Folley contributed.