Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is already facing the first big test of his nascent Speakership as he stares down a tight window to avoid a government shutdown.
Government funding is set to run out Nov. 17, plunging Johnson straight into the same obstacle course that helped cost his predecessor the Speakership.
Johnson has said he wants to prioritize passing full-year spending bills, while proposing a stopgap measure that would run through at least January.
But as the House reopens and Republicans gear up for a potential showdown with the Democratic-led Senate over spending, major questions are up in the air about the party’s strategy over the next few weeks.
“I know those discussions are going on at the highest levels. It’s just among the critical issues that the new Speaker is going to have to wrestle with” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, told reporters on Thursday.
“It’s a bit unfair to him that he has to inherit such unfinished business, but I mean, it’s kind of par for the course around here,” Womack said.
In his pitch to House Republicans ahead of taking the gavel on Wednesday, Johnson outlined an ambitious schedule to pass the party’s remaining full-year fiscal year 2024 funding bills. The House’s approval of a sprawling partisan energy and water funding bill on Thursday checked off the first week of the plan.
But lawmakers acknowledge another stopgap funding bill will likely be required and in the same letter Johnson proposed one that would run through mid-January or mid-April, whichever the conference is in favor of.
However, the letter didn’t offer much specifics on what such a measure would look like.
For now, House Republicans are setting out to pass the last seven partisan full-year funding bills by mid-November. But there is much uncertainty in the conference around what the topline number for the party’s overall proposed government spending will look like for fiscal year 2024.
It’s an issue that plagued former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Johnson’s predecessor, for much of his roughly nine-month term, and yet it remains unclear how much hard-line conservatives will hold the party’s new leader to task on the matter.
“I’m not gonna, yet, lay down markers on the numbers. We have appropriations bills and we’ve been moving,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) told The Hill on Wednesday.
But he added he thinks “it’s still possible” to drive spending for nondefense programs down below limits set as part of a legislative budget caps deal brokered between McCarthy and President Biden earlier this year known as the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA).
“I think at this point what the key here is, moving for the bills that at least cut spending off of the FRA levels and frankly offset the supplementals,” he said, as the White House and lawmakers have pushed for supplemental funding for Israel and Ukraine in recent weeks.
“That’s actually the most important part here, is paying for and offsetting supplemental spending, because it’s tens of billions, if not 100 billion-plus dollars,” Roy said.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) also said Wednesday that it’s important to have a commitment on the topline figure “to know how the whole puzzle fits together, and what where we’re going to go as a conference with these bills.”
But he also argued at the time that it wouldn’t be a problem to vote on the energy funding bill so long as it “fits within where it was expected to be based on the direction that we were trying to go previously.”
The recent comments come as others in the party have pointed fingers at some in the right flank.
“I think this was all a personal vendetta to get Kevin McCarthy out [and] the same people who are arguing about a topline number now seem to don’t give a s*** about a topline number. So, make that make sense,” Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) said earlier this week.
But Good, who is among the eight who voted to oust McCarthy last month, and other hardliners have argued Johnson is more aligned with their principles than their predecessor.
“He shares our conservative values. He shares our desire to restore fiscal responsibility to people’s house, but he also has been left in a difficult position because of the failures of the previous Speaker,” he said.
Despite being a member of GOP leadership, Johnson, who served as vice chair of the conference, voted against an eleventh-hour “clean” stopgap funding plan McCarthy brought to the floor last month to prevent a government shutdown.
McCarthy resorted to the back-up plan after hardline conservatives tanked a partisan plan that would have also kept the government running, calling for steep spending cuts and changes to border policy that drew fierce opposition from Democrats.
Some Republicans have already pushed back on the idea of another “clean” continuing resolution, which would stave off a shutdown next month by keeping funding at current levels, without any additional add-ons for conservatives.
“I think for any continuing resolution to pass is going to have to have some conservative victories in it, whether that’s border or some sort of cut,” Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) said on Thursday, while adding the longest extension likely would be January.
“Otherwise it’ll have mounting opposition,” he said.
However, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who hardliners had previously lined up behind in the Speaker’s race, argued Republicans would have more “leverage” with a stopgap bill running into April.
“I would prefer long, to use as leverage the potential trigger cut that happens on April 30, the one percent 1 percent,” Jordan told The Hill on Thursday, referring to the across-the-board cuts for defense and nondefense programs. “That gives us the incentive to do our job.”