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House GOP may move stopgap spending bill as soon as this month

Option would take October shutdown off the table as fight for cuts goes on

Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said he wants "clear cuts" and to consider him a "no" vote on appropriations bills "until you hear otherwise."
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said he wants "clear cuts" and to consider him a "no" vote on appropriations bills "until you hear otherwise." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House GOP leaders are discussing the possibility of putting a stopgap spending bill on the floor as soon as this month as a fail-safe option while they try to build support for passing fiscal 2024 appropriations bills that appear on shaky ground.

The idea, according to one person familiar with the conversations, is to have a stopgap in place to continue government funding past Sept. 30 in the event all the regular appropriations bills are not passed by the end of the fiscal year. That move would avoid a partial government shutdown in October if the Senate also passed the stopgap and President Joe Biden signed it into law.

Some Republicans view passing a stopgap ahead of time as a way to take a shutdown off the table, thereby skirting some of the pressure from Democrats to accept a catchall omnibus or other appropriations bills that have higher spending than conservatives want.

GOP leaders are holding ongoing discussions with rank-and-file members to try to build enough support to pass all the full-year fiscal 2024 bills after they are reported out of the Appropriations Committee. And they recognize that additional changes may be needed to get the 218 votes usually needed for passage, according to the source, who spoke on background to discuss private leadership deliberations.

Some hard-line conservatives might still block the consideration of bills that don’t cut spending as deeply as they want, despite GOP leaders having already acceded to many of their demands.

Leadership’s preference is to find a way to pass the annual appropriations bills to set up a strong negotiating position with the Senate. Just five Republicans can tank any of the bills, as Democrats are expected to be unified against them.

GOP leaders have sought to build consensus partly by setting spending allocations below the topline levels agreed to in last month’s debt limit suspension law brokered by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the White House.

‘Smoke and mirrors’

But in the narrowly divided House, some members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus and others are threatening to withhold their support as they seek deeper cuts. Some of the hard-line critics expressed their concern at a meeting with McCarthy on June 23.

“I’m very frustrated,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., a Freedom Caucus member who attended the meeting. “I don’t know how we get off this train of continuous spending.”

Norman said he could not support a leadership plan to tap roughly $115 billion from previously appropriated, but unspent, funds to boost nondefense spending that would otherwise be subject to deeper cuts. While McCarthy said he would try to pare back spending to fiscal 2022 levels, the use of rescissions could make next year’s spending relatively flat.

“To go to ’22 levels and use rescissions to just plus it back up is wrong,” Norman said. “I’m not into any more smoke and mirrors.” He said money from rescissions should be used only to pay down the debt or possibly to boost military spending.

Another conservative who attended the meeting, Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett, said, “I’d like to see clear cuts again, not accounting tricks.”

As for whether he would support the fiscal 2024 bills, Burchett said, “Put me down as a ‘no’ until you hear otherwise. I don’t support them until I see the final numbers.”

But Burchett said GOP leadership was “very upfront” about the process and was trying to build consensus for the bills, including by considering deeper cuts.

“They said everything’s on the table,” Burchett said of House leaders. “I’m not ready to throw in the towel on this thing.”

GOP leaders and their deputies are soliciting additional spending cut ideas from members, several sources said.

But deeper cuts would only widen the disparity with Senate appropriators, who are writing bills to the levels allowed under the debt limit deal. The two chambers are using spending allocations that are already about $119 billion apart.

There is no immediate need for a stopgap measure this month since the fiscal year does not end until Sept. 30. But if House Republicans can’t agree on regular spending bills, they will be at a disadvantage when they go to the bargaining table with the Senate. Such an impasse would make the default option a CR that extends spending at fiscal 2023 levels.

The ultimate fallback option would be a full-year CR, but that measure would satisfy almost no one and could face opposition from multiple fronts. It would anger defense hawks who want higher defense spending. And it would not satisfy fiscal conservatives who want to roll back spending to fiscal 2022 levels.

Burchett said he has not yet heard talk of a CR but would oppose it in any case. “I don’t vote for CRs,” he said. “I’m tired of compromising on the future of our country’s financial well-being.”

Nevertheless, if House Republicans cannot agree on appropriations bills and if conservatives block them this month ahead of the August recess, putting a CR on the floor may be the only logical outcome to avoid a partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Norman said the June 23 meeting, which drew 20 to 25 Republicans representing various factions of the GOP’s “five families,” offered a starting point toward a resolution.

“They heard us out,” he said of leadership. “We spoke our peace.”

But when asked if McCarthy offered any game plan for a resolution, Norman simply said, “We spoke and they listened.”

Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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