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House stopgap bill falters with no Senate backup plan in sight

Senate has its own problems as House GOP remains short of votes to avert shutdown

Louisiana Republican Rep. Garret Graves walks down the House steps after the final votes of the week in the Capitol on Sept. 14.
Louisiana Republican Rep. Garret Graves walks down the House steps after the final votes of the week in the Capitol on Sept. 14. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Even if Speaker Kevin McCarthy is able to somehow scrounge up the votes to pass a partisan stopgap funding measure in the House this week, it could take a miracle to avoid a partial government shutdown next month.

Democrats controlling the Senate have no interest in the 30-day continuing resolution House Republicans unveiled Sunday night, which cuts most domestic agencies by more than 8 percent and would impose a range of border-related restrictions that President Joe Biden has already threatened to veto. 

But the Senate itself is tied in knots over appropriations, with a $279 billion, three-bill fiscal 2024 spending package stymied by procedural objections to considering more than just the base bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects. 

That chamber is considering an unusual move — which could take up much of this week — to suspend its germaneness rule in order to short-circuit the objection from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., among others, which would ultimately require 67 votes. If that move is successful, then the Senate will have gotten three fiscal 2024 spending bills to conference with the House, but that doesn’t resolve the immediate hurdle of avoiding a government shutdown.

The House is considering taking up the Defense spending bill this week, though there’s no guarantee it won’t be a replay of last week when GOP leaders had to shelve that measure due to conservative objections. 

If McCarthy can’t get at least one more spending bill over to the Senate, that chamber may not have any available legislative vehicle to “ping pong” back to the House in time to clear a CR for Biden’s signature. And even if the Senate could volley something back to the House, a besieged McCarthy may be in no position to take it up.

All of which lays the groundwork for at least a brief shutdown starting Oct. 1, though it’s not clear what the exit strategy would be or what would possibly convince McCarthy’s detractors to shelve their objections and allow government funding to resume.

“The other alternative that I see right now, is that you let the government shut down, you let the Senate do a bill, the House gets jammed, you haven’t gotten any wins on savings and you haven’t gotten wins on border,” Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., a close McCarthy ally, said Monday.

Hemorrhaging support

Even key lawmakers in McCarthy’s corner so far this year, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., have found things to hate in the draft stopgap bill GOP leaders hoped would at least strengthen their hand in talks with the Senate. 

While House Republican negotiators ignored Biden’s request for $24 billion in supplemental Ukraine and related assistance, Greene took issue with the CR’s continuation of current Pentagon funding rates, including $300 million appropriated in December for training and equipping Ukrainian troops. The measure would also continue State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development funding for Ukraine, though every account in that title of the fiscal 2023 omnibus would be cut by 8.1 percent.

Greene is far from the only GOP lawmaker opposed to the stopgap measure in its current form. Informal tallies circulating showed at least a dozen members who’ve declared themselves either a “no” on the measure or voiced enough concerns to put them in the “lean no” category. 

Even those whose extenuating circumstances might ordinarily keep them away from Washington said they’ll fly in to cast a protest vote against the measure. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., recently had a baby and just got over a fever and infection, but she said she’ll be back to “vote no because I know how important this is.”

Luna is one of maybe a half-dozen “hard no’s” on the package, at minimum, leaving McCarthy and GOP leaders little choice but to tweak the stopgap measure if they hope to get something over to the Senate this week. The Rules Committee took up that bill among others on Monday but didn’t make any changes to the underlying text, at least for now.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., who played a part in negotiating the deal, said the continuing resolution would allow conservatives to continue to push for deeper cuts in the appropriations process.

“We would also have an ability to actually cut federal spending, and to still continue our work to get meaningful cuts for the appropriations bills to actually have a government that does its job, but no more,” Donalds said before a meeting in McCarthy’s office Monday. “My job is just to present an opportunity or a plan and see if it can work. And you know, for my colleagues who disagree, I would ask them, what’s your plan? What’s your strategy?”

One thing McCarthy and his critics agree on: It’s still early enough in the process not to simply give up and fold to the Senate. 

McCarthy told reporters Monday that “this isn’t the 30th,” referring to the deadline before current funding expires. 

“We’ve got a long ways to go,” McCarthy said. “I’m for a lot of different ideas, whatever gets us to be able to get through, and I’ll continue to put more ideas on the floor … Inside our conference, we can work on this and we can get this solved.”

No clear path

It wasn’t immediately clear what changes could get enough Republicans on board.

Some expressed concern that provisions requiring employers to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm work eligibility were left out of the stopgap’s border security package. But opening up that section could cost votes elsewhere in the conference.

Then there are demands to “defund” special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith’s investigation into former President Donald Trump. That office operates under a permanent appropriation and isn’t dependent on annual spending bills. 

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee itself appears to be on the sidelines in the stopgap funding talks. Donalds is the lead sponsor of the latest House GOP offering, which was negotiated by key members of the Freedom Caucus and Main Street Caucus — only one of whom, Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma — serves on the spending panel.

During the Rules panel meeting Monday, ranking member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the CR was negotiated “between the far right and the extreme far right of the Republican Party. … I can’t even tell if anyone from the Appropriations Committee was involved in this deal either.”

At minimum, the spending panel’s technical expertise appears to have been put to good use — including a novel use of “anomalies” to basically exempt the Pentagon from any of a stopgap bill’s usual restrictions on new projects, in addition to shoehorning in a nearly 4 percent boost above current funding levels.

David Lerman, Paul M. Krawzak and Paul V. Fontelo contributed to this report.

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