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Rule vote for stopgap scrapped as GOP leaders weigh more cuts

Monthlong funding bill may be trimmed down to levels GOP hard-liners have demanded since January

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., stops to speak to reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., stops to speak to reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans are considering making deeper spending cuts in their proposed stopgap funding bill to win support from conservative detractors whose votes are critical to the measure’s passage.

The House had been scheduled to vote Tuesday afternoon on a rule to take up the bill, but GOP leaders postponed that vote after members acknowledged they wouldn’t have enough support to get the continuing resolution on the floor in its current form.

Talks could now pivot to hard-line conservatives’ demand to pare back discretionary spending in the CR to the fiscal 2022 annualized rate of $1.47 trillion, or about $119 billion below the $1.59 trillion rate in the current stopgap legislation. 

“What’s clear to me is that there is a strong desire among members to revise the spending levels for this CR in order to get on a path to 218 Republican votes,” said Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest bloc of House conservatives.

Neither proposal stands a chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, but a lower spending cap could help Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, push the bill to passage in his chamber on a party-line vote and give the Senate at least an opening bid. A short-term funding extension is needed by Sept. 30 to avoid a partial government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins.

[House stopgap bill falters with no Senate backup plan in sight]

While the overall funding target in the CR is at the higher figure conservatives oppose, the measure would cut most nondefense programs by more than 8 percent, while allowing defense spending to grow and exempting veterans accounts from cuts.

A solution, said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., could involve setting the funding rate for the month of October, which the underlying bill would cover, at the lower $1.47 trillion figure that conservatives have been demanding since January.  

“One common disagreement is the topline number. And so, you know, there’s a discussion about well, why not use the topline number from January? Why not just do that?” Massie said.

‘Math misunderstanding’

The $1.47 trillion target sought by hard-line conservatives was set in debt limit legislation the House GOP originally passed as well as the draft fiscal 2024 budget resolution unveiled Tuesday. It’s also the number that the House Appropriations Committee based its spending bills on, although the panel used offsets of unspent funds from prior years to boost amounts actually available to agencies by around $115 billion.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., a close McCarthy ally, pushed back on the idea that more cuts are needed, saying the bill the bill already reflects the lower spending level sought by conservative detractors.

“Let’s be very clear: We are at or below $1.47 trillion. Period,” Graves said. “There is a math misunderstanding. …Whenever you go through and adjust this for inflation, we’re talking about a 10 percent cut or more right now.”

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., a member of the Appropriations Committee, said the difference between the two figures translates into about a $10 billion funding cut for the monthlong period covered by the stopgap measure.

“That’s the debate we’re actively having. Now, if the package changes because of what the conference wants to do, and I’ll defer to leadership on what they bring forward,” said Garcia, who’s got a potentially tough race next year and wants to focus on getting the full-year Defense spending bill passed this week.

“We’re throwing everything on the wall right now to see how we can get to 218 [votes] and it seems to be primarily limited around the top line number, 1.59 [trillion dollars] versus 1.47 trillion [dollars], which is going to take place. That’s the trade space right now,” Garcia added.

Several Republicans said lowering the spending level in the stopgap might win their support. They also want assurances that GOP leaders are committed to the lower figure in talks with the Senate after getting past the Sept. 30 deadline for a funding resolution to avert a partial government shutdown.

Rep. Morgan Luttrell, R-Texas, who is undecided on the current CR, would prefer a lower spending level at $1.47 trillion.

“I’d like to start drawing down on our national debt and get ourselves back in a way where we can survive,” he said. “And the current projection, I just don’t see that happening.”

Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., who opposes the current CR, thinks changes to it are possible. “I believe they are open to anything,” he said.

He is skeptical about avoiding a shutdown, but Burchett suggested that inflicting that sort of pain may get lawmakers focused on striking a deal. 

“A lot of times unfortunately people got to get hurt before it moves,” Burchett said.

Avery Roe and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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