House Speaker Mike Johnson’s bid to avert government shutdown

UPDATE: Monday, Nov 13, 2023 · 10:17:54 PM +00:00

Joan McCarter

Schumer is not moving forward with cloture on a CR today, after all. “We are pausing on our plans to move forward on the Senate vehicle to allow the House to move first with their proposal,” he announced. The fact that Johnson didn’t go for massive cuts, or any cuts for that matter, reduces the urgency of a Senate option somewhat. But Johnson’s proposal is in trouble with the House GOP, for precisely that reason. Because it’s uncertain to make it through the Rules Committee, House leadership is considering putting it on the floor under suspension of the rules, which would require a lot of Democratic votes to put it over the 2/3 threshold.

New House Speaker Mike Johnson might be inexperienced and a right-wing zealot, but he’s smart enough to know that the government shutting down in the first month under his watch would be bad. This past Saturday, he unveiled his plan for a clean continuing resolution, without the steep spending cuts hardliners in his conference have demanded. That in itself eases the threat of a shutdown when the current funding measure expires at midnight Friday. It means he’s not going to insist on the kinds of ruinous cuts Democrats have rejected in previous efforts, and that there’s room for finding compromise with them.

He did give the Freedom Caucus a nod by adopting their idea for a “laddered” CR with two tranches. The first set of programs—military and veterans, Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing—would be extended through Jan. 19. The second tranche extends funding for the State, Justice, Commerce, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments through Feb. 2. It does not include the supplemental funding President Joe Biden has requested for Ukraine and Israel, but does have a sweetener for the Senate and farm-state members in extending authorization of the farm bill through September 2024. It would expire at the end of the year without an extension.

His play to the Freedom Caucus of giving them their ladder has mostly failed—they want big cuts. The head of the group, Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, panned the proposal Monday, tweeting that it “fails to acknowledge fiscal irresponsibility, and changes absolutely nothing while emboldening a do-nothing Senate and a fiscally illiterate President.” Fellow maniac Rep. Chip Roy of Texas was also quick out of the gate: “My opposition to the clean CR just announced by the Speaker to the @HouseGOP cannot be overstated,” he tweeted Saturday. “Funding Pelosi level spending & policies for 75 days – for future ‘promises.’”

It went over slightly better with Democrats, some of whom acknowledged to Punchbowl News that it could have been worse and that at least he’s trying to avoid picking another fight with Democrats over funding levels. His poisoned Israel funding bill has left a bitter taste behind for Democrats.

The laddered-CR gimmick drew fire from ranking Appropriations Committee member Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. “It is irresponsible to kick the can down the road for several months—keeping government services frozen—and hope that our challenges go away,” she said in a statement Saturday. “By adopting the Freedom Caucus’s extreme ‘laddered CR’ approach, Speaker Johnson is setting up a system that will double the number of shutdown showdowns,” she continued.

Speaking for Senate Democrats, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said, “I don’t like this laddered CR approach. It looks gimmicky to me. But I’m open to what the House is talking about.” He added: “It does worry me that the House process requires you to come back and deal with half the budget on one date and half the budget on another date. That sounds to me a little bit of a recipe for failure.”

Johnson has two immediate tests for his CR in the House. First, on Monday afternoon, it has to pass in the Rules Committee, which includes Roy and two other hard-liners, Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Ralph Norman of South Carolina. If it passes out of Rules without major changes, then the rule has to pass on the floor Tuesday in order to move to final passage. As of now, neither step is guaranteed.

In the meantime, the first procedural vote for an alternative Senate CR is scheduled Monday afternoon. That proposal hasn’t yet taken shape, so most of the day will likely be taken up with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell trying to hash that out. Senate Republicans might decide to oppose Schumer’s efforts, wanting to give Johnson the chance to try his approach first.


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