New speaker two-steps his way out of a government shutdown – best news

  • November 14, 2023

Newly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson pushed a two-part, temporary spending measure across the finish line in the House on Tuesday, calling his approach one that will “break the fever” that has led Congress to annually rush through a bloated year-end funding bill.

It would beat a Friday shutdown deadline and keep the government funded until early next year.

The Republican-led House passed the bill in a 336-95 vote over objections from hardline conservatives. It passed thanks to the support of more than 200 Democrats, who were satisfied it did not cut spending and, like the Republicans, are eager to avoid a politically damaging government shutdown that looms at the end of the week.

Senate Democrats have largely endorsed the House measure along with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, virtually guaranteeing Congress will clear the bill for President Biden’s signature later this week and extinguish the threat of a holiday government shutdown.

Mr. McConnell of Kentucky called Mr. Johnson’s plan a “responsible measure that will keep the lights on and avoids a harmful lapse in federal spending.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, praised Mr. Johnson’s measure for avoiding “steep cuts” while funding the Defense Department until February.

The House bill funds some federal agencies until Jan. 19 and others, including military spending, through Feb. 2. The measure does not include emergency spending for wars in Ukraine or Israel, nor does it fund additional border security sought by many Republicans. It temporarily extends critical government programs, including the National Flood Insurance Program and Community Health Centers.

House and Senate lawmakers now face a two-part deadline to work out how to fund the government for the remainder of the year amid deep partisan differences over spending and policy.

“It buys us time to agree on a top-line funding level and negotiate final bills with the Senate,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kay Granger, Texas Republican.

While hardline conservatives rejected the bill, Mr. Johnson, of Louisiana, defended the “laddered” spending measure as one that stops a “harmful” government shutdown while giving the Republicans time to “have stringent fights on principle and philosophy” as it works out funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

That time will be spent seeking additional border security policies, he said, and providing adequate oversight of the funding request Mr. Biden seeks for the war in Ukraine, which many Republicans oppose, and to provide Israel money to wage war against the terrorist organization Hamas.

The funding measure lost the support of 93 Republicans, many of whom said the new speaker caved to Democrats to avoid a government shutdown. Less than one month ago, eight hardline conservatives used an obscure House rule to throw out Speaker Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, after he, too, worked with Democrats to temporarily extend government funding.

“We promised the American people that we would stand up to this administration, cut spending, secure the border,” Rep. Chip Roy, Texas Republican, said in opposition to the bill. “We have delivered on none of that.”

Mr. Johnson pointed out Tuesday that he’s been speaker for just three weeks and the House Republican majority on Tuesday was a razor-thin three votes.

“We’re not surrendering; we’re fighting,” Mr. Johnson said. “But you have to be wise about choosing the fights. You’ve got to fight fights that you can win.”

As he concludes his first month as House speaker, Mr. Johnson has kept the government’s lights on but faces the same dilemma as his predecessor in trying to find a pathway to full-year funding for the government.

The House has passed seven fiscal 2024 spending measures, but internal divisions have blocked progress on some of the remaining five bills. Across the Capitol, Democrats who control the Senate oppose the reduced spending levels passed in the House measures and policy riders included in them.

In addition to the January and February spending deadlines in the House-passed spending bill, Congress faces a 1% across-the-board cut in all non-mandatory spending if the Senate and House do not pass all 12 government spending bills by the end of the year.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, of Connecticut, who is the top Democrat on the appropriations committee, wondered aloud on the House floor how the fractious Republican majority would provide a path forward on spending.

“What is going to change in this next go-around?” Ms. DeLauro said.

Mr. Johnson said his two-step plan has already changed the mindset in Washington by interrupting the longtime pattern of passing a massive spending bill just before year’s end, stuffed with nearly every government spending measure and far too long for lawmakers to read before voting on it. The big “omnibus” packages are often topped off with hundreds of billions of dollars in last-minute spending and blamed in part for the nation’s staggering $33.6 trillion debt.

“We have broken the fever. We are not going to have a massive omnibus spending bill right for Christmas,” Mr. Johnson said. “That is a gift to the American people. Because that is no way to legislate.”

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