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Partisan House GOP stopgap funds bill on halting comeback trail

‘Fluid’ situation unresolved as GOP leaders work on holdouts; weekend session possible

Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., talks to reporters after a GOP conference meeting on Tuesday.
Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., talks to reporters after a GOP conference meeting on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

​House Republicans were starting to move closer together Tuesday on a revised stopgap funding measure that would cut nondefense appropriations more deeply than an earlier version and possibly establish a new commission to tackle long-term budget challenges. 

But there were real questions about whether the necessary 217 votes among Republicans were possible on a compromise continuing resolution that would ultimately be rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate anyway.

The key divide was where to set the annualized funding rate for the month of October on the measure, which would avert a partial government shutdown after Sept. 30.

Conservatives revolted over the initial CR and border security package over a proposed funding rate of $1.59 trillion, even though it would mean a greater than 8 percent cut for nondefense, nonveterans spending.

Freedom Caucus and other hard-liners want to set the funding rate at $1.47 trillion both in the monthlong bill and for the full fiscal year, which could mean as much as a 30 percent cut to nondefense programs outside the Department of Veterans Affairs and border security.

That wasn’t sitting well with centrist Republicans representing districts that lean Democratic, according to Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., a member of the Main Street Caucus and one of the lead sponsors of the original GOP stopgap measure.

“I don’t think the votes exist for that, but I think everybody understands that. The question is where there’s the sweet spot,” Armstrong said during a break from a marathon series of meetings in Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s office. “I think there is a way where at least we can agree to continue to keep talking all night long and probably all weekend.”

Despite the best efforts of Emmer, R-Minn., the negotiations were slow-going and it didn’t appear a firm breakthrough was likely on Tuesday.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was seen leaving the Capitol after the final vote series of the day, which included a rejection of the rule for floor debate on the fiscal 2024 Defense appropriations bill. After the vote series, Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark’s office advised members to “keep their schedules flexible,” including for possible weekend votes.

There were five GOP “no” votes on the Defense bill rule: Arizona’s Andy Biggs, Colorado’s Ken Buck, North Carolina’s Dan Bishop, Montana’s Matt Rosendale and South Carolina’s Ralph Norman.

That’s also a pretty good cross-section of members that McCarthy, Emmer and the rest of the leadership team will need to convince in order to limit their losses to no more than three Republicans. No Democrats are expected to back the revised stopgap bill, and losing four GOP votes would sink the package as Rep. Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., remains at home nursing injuries from a recess ranch accident.

One Republican who may be coming around is Victoria Spartz, a retiring Indiana lawmaker who’s been highly critical of McCarthy and previously threatened to vote against every rule for floor debate.

She flipped her vote to “yes” on the Defense rule, saying Tuesday that GOP leaders’ agreement to pitch adding a new fiscal commission to the stopgap measure was critical. Spartz said McCarthy agreed to discuss the provision with the GOP conference.

“Kevin was willing to move forward on the issues of, you know, having this enforceable commission, not a bunch of B.S. … He says he’s gonna put it on the CR,” Spartz said leaving Emmer’s office. “The biggest problem is the Senate on that issue, I hate to tell you.”

Even if the commission language gets added, Spartz said she wasn’t a definite “yes” vote for the underlying spending bill, though she’d at least back the rule to allow floor debate.

Topline dispute

The main obstacle has been getting conservative holdouts comfortable with the rate of spending in the CR.

The original version unveiled over the weekend applied a basic annualized funding rate of $1.59 trillion — the level of fiscal 2024 spending enumerated in the debt ceiling law this spring which is $12 billion below current funding levels. But not all programs were created equal, as the Pentagon would receive a nearly 4 percent increase while all nondefense agencies outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs would be cut by more than 8 percent.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern said an amendment he’d drafted would bring the overall CR funding rate down to the $1.47 trillion level conservatives want, but with a “plus up” for Homeland Security.

Hern, R-Okla., said his amendment would preserve the remainder of the CR and border security package negotiated by members of the Freedom Caucus and Main Street Caucus.

Leaving Emmer’s office, Hern told reporters the plan had flipped at least three prior “no” votes to “yes” votes if the revised package came to the floor.

One of those is Norman, a Freedom Caucus member who was in the meetings and said “a lot more than three” opponents were likely to come around to supporting the revised measure Hern was drafting.

But Hern couldn’t predict when or how a deal might come together. “Everything’s very fluid right now,” he said.

Earlier in the day, GOP leaders were forced to postpone a vote on the rule for floor debate on the initial stopgap bill due to conservative objections.

Several groups of members were meeting throughout the day in Emmer’s office.

Spotted coming and going were moderates from tough districts that voted for President Joe Biden in 2020, including freshmen GOP New York lawmakers Marc Molinaro, Mike Lawler and Nick LaLota. 

Lawler, who won by less than 1 percent last year in a district Biden won by 10 points, said he couldn’t support spending bills at the $1.47 trillion topline.

“Look they’re entitled to put forth whatever number they want. That’s not where I am,” said Lawler, who was seen leaving Emmer’s office with Arizona’s Juan Ciscomani, another Biden-district Republican who won a close 2022 race.

At the same time, staunch conservatives who have held out against higher spending, like Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., and Bishop, who has threatened to back a motion to oust McCarthy from the speaker’s chair, were seen at the meeting.

Talks were continuing into the evening.

‘To be determined’

Other than the Military Construction-VA bill, the chamber has passed none of its bills due to a dispute with conservatives over that $1.47 trillion figure.

While House GOP appropriators technically held their bills down to that overall limit, in reality they added $115 billion in nondefense spending that would be offset by cuts to unspent funds from Democrats’ emergency funding packages in the 117th Congress. Conservatives want those offsets to go to deficit reduction rather than circumventing the $1.47 trillion cap.

That dispute led to Republican leaders yanking the Agriculture spending bill from the floor before the recess and contributed to the Defense bill’s demise Tuesday.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., one of the stopgap bill’s authors, said despite progress in the CR talks how to deal with the general budget ceiling for fiscal 2024 appropriations was an issue.

“We want to know what we’re going to spend for all the appropriations,” Perry said. “It’s a point of disagreement.”

Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., one of the holdouts, said Tuesday that it was “to be determined” whether he needed to see cuts to the regular spending bills before backing the CR.

And despite Norman’s apparent backing for the revised stopgap bill under discussion, he said he wanted to see that firm commitment to the lower full-year spending cap as well as a schedule for considering the remaining 11 spending bills.

“Are we making meaningful progress? The answer to that is absolutely,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., another Main Street leader and sponsor of the initial GOP stopgap measure. “I would say everything that’s gone on today has been productive and if we keep this sort of pace up I think we’re well positioned for success.”

Even if House Republicans can agree on a stopgap bill that can pass in that chamber, it’s viewed as a nonstarter in the Senate.

In the interim, a group of centrists on both sides of the aisle from the Problem Solvers Caucus were working on their own backup plan that could combine some border security policies with supplemental aid for Ukraine and natural disaster victims sought by senators on both sides of the aisle. They’re expected to meet with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., on Wednesday to go over the plan, in hopes of securing broad bipartisan buy-in.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., one of the Problem Solvers, said he believes that they could bring such a bill to the House floor if necessary even without a discharge petition, though he wouldn’t elaborate. But he said his overriding concern was making sure the government doesn’t shut down.

“Failing is not an option in my book, so you can read between the lines,” Bacon said.

David Lerman, Avery Roe and Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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