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House GOP looks ahead to Plan B after doomed stopgap vote

Some holdouts open to a very short-term funding extension, perhaps one week

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., leaves a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans are starting to come around to the idea of a very short-term stopgap funding measure — keeping the government open for perhaps one extra week — as they seek to buy time for more progress on spending bills.

The GOP conference was set to discuss next steps at a 4 p.m. meeting after the chamber rejected, 198-232, an amended version of their prior continuing resolution introduced Sept. 18 that was intended to woo more GOP votes. But 21 Republicans voted “no,” joining all Democrats in opposition.

No Republicans voted against the earlier rule for floor debate. But there was little sign of movement among the faction that’s pledged to oppose any CR due to various objections — including that GOP leaders haven’t done enough to pass full-year fiscal 2024 spending bills — despite the passage of three of those bills late Thursday.  

“The CR’s gonna fail. The votes aren’t there,” Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn., one of those pledging to vote against it, said before the vote. “That being said, I would consider a seven-day CR with conditions,” Ogles said. “We have to keep moving appropriations bills.”

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., called a seven-day CR an “outstanding idea” that would be discussed among the conference later on Friday.

“I think it may be the only one that could possibly pass because it would alleviate the concern of some that we’re relieving the pressure of the calendar that, unfortunately, Congress historically needs to operate,” Good said. “If you did it for a week with the requirement, you pass two or three bills, and you can do another week and pass two or three bills, then you’re showing progress.”

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., another holdout, said “I’m sort of thinking three days,” but then added: “What difference does it make if you’re talking about three days or seven days?

Next week, House GOP leaders intend to bring to the floor the fiscal 2024 Energy-Water and Interior-Environment bills. If they can pass those two, the House will have passed half of the dozen annual appropriations bills, after the three they passed Thursday night and the Military Construction-VA measure that passed before the August recess.

But it’s been tough sledding just to get this far along in the appropriations process.

The chamber was forced to pull the Agriculture bill from the floor this summer, and late Thursday it went down on a 191-237 vote, with 27 Republicans opposed. That was the first time since 2016 the House has defeated an appropriations bill on the floor, and now it’s happened twice in a matter of hours.

On the Senate side, lawmakers are working on a 47-day bipartisan stopgap funding measure, with a cloture vote scheduled for Saturday. But a group of lawmakers, mostly Republicans along with Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., have been meeting to try to hammer out a border security package that could be added as an amendment. The group was meeting in Minority Whip John Thune’s office on Friday morning.

With the two chambers still greatly at odds, however, the best hope for averting a partial government shutdown starting after 11:59 p.m. Saturday might be that weeklong patch some House members are discussing.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said it was likely that after the latest stopgap bill goes down, the chamber would recess until Saturday, when lawmakers would reconvene on a possible Plan B. But after the latest stopgap bill’s defeat, he seemed discouraged about prospects enough holdouts would come around.

“That number in there, I don’t know how you overcome that,” he said.

House revisions

The new provisions unveiled early Friday in the House cut the annualized rate of spending across government agencies by $119 billion — a roughly $10 billion cut for the month of October — while adding the Department of Homeland Security to list of exempted programs, along with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Pentagon and other national security-related accounts.

Combined, the provisions boost the required cuts from all other agencies from 8.1 percent in the previous version to nearly 30 percent in the latest.

The measure now contains a fiscal commission charged with recommending fixes to the nation’s long-term budget problems, based on a bipartisan bill from Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., Brad Schneider, D-Ill., and others. The panel also would have to make recommendations to improve the solvency of trust funds such as those for Social Security and Medicare that are on a path to exhaustion, and to balance the federal budget.

The commission would be required to meet after the November 2024 elections to vote on its recommendations, which would need the votes of at least three members of the panel appointed by Republicans and three by Democrats to win approval. 

And it preserves the earlier text’s inclusion of provisions designed to secure the southern border that were part of legislation the House passed earlier this year. That measure would restrict asylum eligibility for migrants journeying to the U.S.-Mexico border, reinstate family detention, heighten penalties for visa overstays and restart border wall construction, among other things.

But the new bill omits provisions designed to toughen the E-Verify system, a website run by DHS that allows employers to determine the eligibility of workers and screen out the undocumented. 

That omission drew a rebuke from CR opponent Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of around 10 self-styled “hard no’s” on any stopgap bill. He and every other House Republican voted for the fiscal 2024 Homeland Security spending bill Thursday night, which under the rule for that measure’s consideration is being held at the desk until the earlier House-passed border bill becomes law.

“Last night we stood together and demanded that E-Verify be included if [DHS Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas wanted the money. But this continuing resolution that the rule we’re on now would facilitate strips E-Verify, takes it out. Why would Republicans, just overnight, back away from such a strong and necessary provision as E-Verify?” Gaetz said on the floor Friday. “I will be voting against this continuing resolution because I want House Republicans to have the strongest position on the border.”

Doubts about the revised stopgap bill’s prospects remained even as Heritage Action, an influential group among the GOP conference, endorsed its passage. 

“Supporting the House’s stopgap funding agreement and border security package would work towards these goals by responsibly cutting short-term spending to pre-COVID levels and positioning conservatives to secure long-term spending cuts that would put our economy on a sustainable path,” Heritage Action Executive Vice President Ryan Walker said in a statement.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who’s struggled with a group of House Freedom Caucus and other holdouts all year, appeared frustrated with those continuing to oppose the GOP stopgap bill during a Friday morning press conference. He said any Republican voting “no” would have to explain why they voted against border security.

“Every member will have to go on record with where they stand: Are they willing to secure the border, or do they side with President Biden on an open border and vote against a measure to keep government open?” McCarthy said.

‘Winter is coming’

On the floor during debate on the rule, Democrats ticked off what they said would be draconian cuts under the overall reductions the one-month CR would require: 30 percent cuts to nutrition aid for low-income women, infants and children, 74 percent cuts to low-income heating and cooling assistance, known as LIHEAP.

“A 74 percent cut to LIHEAP … winter is coming,” Rules ranking member Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said, citing the famed “Game of Thrones” catchphrase. “What are my friends thinking? Give me a goddamn break, this is wrong.” McGovern had to be rebuked by the chair for use of profanities. 

“This is a total waste of time, let’s end this clown show once and for all,” McGovern said.

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., an endangered freshman from a Democratic-leaning district, has been critical of his party’s strategy in the stopgap funding fight, arguing a shutdown makes little sense and would damage the economy and Republicans’ own political prospects. 

But Lawler took to the floor during debate to point out that “75 percent of Americans believe we are headed in the wrong direction,” arguing that “Bidenomics has been a complete disaster” due to higher spending and inflation and “the crisis at our southern border.” He said it was time for a bipartisan negotiation with the Senate, including on issues like border security.

“Spare me your righteous indignation,” Lawler said to the Democrats. “You’re using this as a vehicle to take back the majority.”

Paul M. Krawzak and Laura Weiss contributed to this report.

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