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Johnson: House GOP looking at new twist to stopgap funds fight

Speaker raises the prospect of a ‘laddered’ approach to avoid a partial shutdown

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., takes questions during a news conference in the Capitol on Thursday.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., takes questions during a news conference in the Capitol on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Federal agencies, meet the “laddered” continuing resolution.

Speaker Mike Johnson said Thursday that Republicans are considering a new approach to stopgap funding that would extend pieces of current appropriations for different time periods, effectively setting up a series of funding cliffs while avoiding a single deadline that could trigger a partial government shutdown for all agencies.

With current funding for the entire government set to expire on Nov. 17, Johnson has proposed a CR to extend funding through Jan. 15, though that date is the federal Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. But the Louisiana Republican said at a press conference some GOP members raised the idea of a “laddered CR” to extend funding on a piecemeal basis.

“I’ll unpack for you what that means here in the coming days, but potentially you would do a CR that extends individual pieces of the appropriations process, individual bills,” Johnson said. “We’ll see how that goes. I think we can build consensus around it.”

The surprise proposal was the latest wrinkle in a delayed appropriations process for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, as some in a divided GOP conference seek additional spending cuts. Some conservatives have been unwilling to extend funding at current levels, which reflect the priorities of the Biden administration and the previous Democratic-controlled Congress.

“I think we gotta look at it,” said Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., an appropriator. “I think we got to be thinking outside the box and come up with as good ideas as we can.”

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., pitched the “laddered” approach, according to sources familiar with the GOP conference discussions. The idea, which hasn’t been fleshed out in any real detail at this point, would be to keep the pressure on the Senate to pass that chamber’s bills and start conference talks with the House while ensuring parts of the government remain funded.

In one possible permutation, there could be a staggered stopgap measure that that extends current funding for three bills at a time, expiring one week apart. After the first three bills’ interim funds expire, lawmakers would have another week to get additional bills done before the next three bills’ deadline hits, and so on.

Harris, a senior appropriator as well as House Freedom Caucus member with credibility in both camps, believes such a plan could incentivize conservatives opposed to a CR to vote for it, a source familiar with his thinking said.

Regardless of what happens with the laddered approach, Garcia said he would like to “decouple” the Defense spending bill from a continuing resolution that leaves the Pentagon hamstrung without the ability to begin new programs or contracts. He said the same should apply to the Homeland Security Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“One of the kind of dark sides of a CR is that we can’t start new programs,” Garcia said. “So we have critical technology development programs on the DOD side that are kind of frozen in time right now because of the CR. So anything we can do to unfreeze those, allow them to go downrange. And then, you know, deal with the other stuff.”

But a laddered approach would complicate the funding process and could be difficult to implement, senior Democratic appropriators warned.

“Well, [Johnson’s] never served on the Appropriations Committee,” said top Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee Democrat Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. “And I would have to study that because if it’s going to cause all kinds of hiccups across the executive branch, that’s not a very good way to govern.”

House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., was more pointed in her remarks.

“I think the speaker doesn’t have a clue. …He doesn’t know about the appropriations process,” she said. “That’s 12 shutdowns. What are we talking about? I say I have no idea what that means and I don’t believe the speaker has any idea of what it means.”

Israel and Ukraine

Johnson also defended his decision to cut IRS funding to pay for a $14.3 billion aid package for Israel (HR 6126) that the House plans to vote on later Thursday. The money would come from an $80 billion allocation provided by Democrats in last year’s climate change, health and tax legislation (PL 117-169) that was designed to boost tax enforcement and improve IRS operations.

“If Democrats in the Senate or the House or anywhere else want to argue that hiring more IRS agents is more important than standing with Israel in this moment, I’m ready to have that debate,” Johnson said. “But I did not attach that for political purposes, okay? I attached it because, again, we’re trying to get back to the principle of fiscal responsibility here. And that was the easiest and largest pile of money that’s sitting there for us to be able to pay for this immediate obligation.”

The Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday the bill would actually increase deficits by $12.5 billion on net over the next decade because cuts to tax enforcement operations would lead to less revenue collection.

While the Israel bill would provide no funding for Ukraine, as sought by President Joe Biden and many in the Senate, Johnson said a Ukraine bill would be coming “in short order,” paired with measures to protect the U.S. southern border.

“It will come next,” he said. “If we’re going to take care of a border in Ukraine, we need to take care of America’s border as well. And I think there’s bipartisan support for that idea.”

Debt commission

Johnson also suggested he was close to appointing members to a bipartisan debt commission that would recommend strategies for curbing federal red ink. While he said he had “great candidates” in mind, he stopped short of naming them.

The speaker said he floated the idea to Senate Republicans in their policy lunch he joined on Wednesday, saying it was well-received.

“I believe we’re going to have very thoughtful people on both sides of the aisle in both chambers come together and have some very productive discussions about that,” he said. “When I said I want to do it immediately I meant that and it’s a top priority right now.”

Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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