Conservatives threw the House back into chaos Wednesday, shutting down proceedings to protest Speaker Mike Johnson’s spending deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown and leaving the funding plan in limbo.
A dozen radical Republicans broke the party line to reject a routine procedural move, blocking consideration of two GOP bills, in what amounted to a warning shot from members of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus that ‘They would not defend the agreement. As the measure failed, members of the group could be seen in a heated discussion with Mr. Johnson and his aides in the House.
The Republican revolt underscored Mr. Johnson’s difficulty in trying to push through the spending deal in a closely divided House, where he angered a sizable bloc of Republicans while maintaining his grip on his work. The upheaval came as it became clear that Congress would most likely have to resort to a new round of short-term spending – something Mr Johnson had previously ruled out – to buy time and promote a bipartisan deal to fund the government.
The scene that played out in the House on Wednesday was a procedural protest that was once considered almost unthinkable in the House, but which right-wing lawmakers used repeatedly last year against former Speaker Kevin McCarthy to protest against his spending deals before finally impeaching him.
Now Mr. Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, finds himself facing the same kind of challenge just three months into his term as president, as he searches for a way to avoid a politically disastrous shutdown. Lawmakers on the right say they would prefer a closed government to funding bills that keep spending essentially flat, rather than cutting it as they demand.
“We declare that the deal as announced – which does not reduce our spending and will pass apparently under suspension of the rules with majority Democratic votes – is unacceptable,” said Rep. Bob Good of Virginia. the Freedom Caucus chairman told reporters.
The agreement announced this weekend by Mr. Johnson and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, essentially fulfills the agreement that President Biden reached last year with Mr. McCarthy to suspend the debt ceiling. The far right angrily opposed the measure, which passed the House with mostly Democratic votes, and had hoped to scale it back. It also includes $69 billion in spending added in a side deal, which Conservatives have sought to block altogether.
Mr. Johnson argued that the deal is the best Republicans can hope for, given their slim majority in the House and the control Democrats have over the Senate and the White House.
He highlighted measures Republicans have insisted on to help offset the cost of the package, including accelerating $10 billion in IRS enforcement cuts and clawing back $6 billion in Covid dollars unspent and other emergency funds, and called the deal a “down payment.” to restore our financial sanity in this country.
“This has been a difficult negotiation,” Mr. Johnson said Wednesday at a news conference at the Capitol. ” We did it. I think this is the best possible agreement between conservatives and Republicans in these circumstances.”
But hard-line conservatives at his conference were furious at the deal and expressed their frustration in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning, saying Mr Johnson had surrendered to Democrats by honoring the deal brokered by Mr. McCarthy.
“We can’t fight and retreat at the same time,” Rep. Warren Davidson, Republican of Ohio, said, visibly furious as he left the meeting.
In an interview on Fox News, Mr. Johnson said he shared the irritation of his ultraconservative colleagues but was unable to deliver what was asked of them.
“I’m frustrated too, but remember we have a margin of two votes in one chamber,” he said. “It is only in the House that we have a majority. So we have to work with the numbers we have and do our best.
The outburst in the House on Wednesday came as Mr Johnson struggled to figure out how to translate the deal into legislation that could be passed in just days, ahead of two shutdown deadlines that begin in January. 19.
Lawmakers on the Senate and House Appropriations committees are now trying to divide the agreed-upon total spending into 12 individual spending bills that fund the government.
Every year it is an arduous process. This year’s work has become all the more complicated as House Republicans have weighed down their funding bills with deep spending cuts and conservative policy dictates that Democrats have refused to respect.
Publicly and privately, lawmakers from both parties admitted that it was unlikely these 12 bills could be negotiated, drafted and passed before the first shutdown deadline — meaning lawmakers would have to pass a bill of interim spending law, known as a continuing resolution or CR. , to avoid a partial government shutdown.
“The obvious question is how long should the CR be? Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and minority leader, said Tuesday.
Mr Johnson had previously promised he was “done” with such stopgap measures – the type of bills the right flank of his conference hates – after passing one in November using Democratic votes to avoid a closing. He declined Wednesday to say whether he would introduce such a bill in the House.
“We’re going to move this forward, we’re going to push it aggressively, and I’m hopeful that we’ll meet the deadlines,” he said.
Carl Hulse reports contributed.