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Johnson offers up two-tiered stopgap funds plan

Proposal already taking heat from right and left; speaker says alternative is a full-year CR

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., conducts a news conference on Nov. 7 with family members of hostages taken by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., conducts a news conference on Nov. 7 with family members of hostages taken by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans plan to take up a stopgap measure that would extend spending for some agencies to mid-January and others to early February, setting up a potential showdown with the Senate and White House just days away from the deadline to avert a partial government shutdown.

Under the draft bill, funding for the agencies covered by the Military Construction-VA, Agriculture, Energy-Water and Transportation-HUD bills would be extended to Jan. 19, and the agencies covered by the other eight bills would be extended a little longer, to Feb. 2.

The current stopgap spending law expires Friday.

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., pitched the plan to the GOP conference on a Saturday afternoon call. It doesn’t include any of the supplemental funding packages President Joe Biden has requested, including $106 billion for Israel, Ukraine, U.S.-Mexico border management and more.

“The bill will stop the absurd holiday-season omnibus tradition of massive, loaded up spending bills introduced right before the Christmas recess,” Johnson said in a statement. “Separating out the CR from the supplemental funding debates places our conference in the best position to fight for fiscal responsibility, oversight over Ukraine aid, and meaningful policy changes at our Southern border.”

Still, Johnson’s likely to have a difficult time getting the two-step continuing resolution through the House, let alone the Democratic-controlled Senate which has been discussing simpler approach.

Already Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a leader of the Freedom Caucus, has come out against what he labeled a “clean” funding patch, saying his opposition “cannot be overstated” and that spending cuts and conservative policy proposals ought to be included.

And former Trump administration budget director Russell Vought posted his opposition on X, formerly known as Twitter, arguing it continues higher spending levels and won’t force a showdown over the border and Justice Department policies.

“Bad bill, bad strategy,” Vought wrote. 

Meanwhile White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre weighed in with her own critique, although it wasn’t accompanied by an explicit veto threat. 

“This proposal is just a recipe for more Republican chaos and more shutdowns — full stop,” she said. “House Republicans need to stop wasting time on their own political divisions, do their jobs, and work in a bipartisan way to prevent a shutdown.”

If he can’t get the two-step plan through both chambers, Johnson plans to offer up a full-year CR with increases only for defense and national security priorities, according to talking points circulated to GOP conference members.

If Johnson can pass the measure in the House, it wasn’t immediately clear that the Senate would reject it out of hand.

Democrats in that chamber were particularly wary of House GOP efforts to include the Defense appropriations bill in the first tranche, which they felt would give Republicans an excuse not to complete negotiations on other domestic spending bills like the Labor-HHS-Education bill.

But Johnson held off on including the Defense bill, one of seven the House has passed so far.

“It’s a good thing the speaker didn’t include unnecessary cuts and kept defense funding with the second group of programs,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said.

Staggered negotiations

House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., has pushed the staggered deadlines approach as a way to accelerate the passage and negotiation of spending legislation, though he’d previously said the Defense bill should be part of the first batch.

The CR version Johnson settled on envisions quicker negotiations on four bills that one or the other chamber, or both, has already passed.

The Military Construction-VA bill has passed in both chambers, while the Senate has also passed its Agriculture and Transportation-HUD bills as part of a package with the Military Construction-VA bill.

The House has been unable to pass its Agriculture or Transportation-HUD bills, though the chamber could take another shot at the latter as early as this week if GOP leaders cut a deal on Amtrak funding with party moderates. 

The remainder of the dozen full-year bills pose a heavier lift, and under Johnson’s plan, there won’t be much additional time to cut bicameral deals: the House is scheduled to be out the week of Jan. 22.

GOP leaders posted the text Saturday shortly after Johnson went over the details, starting the 72-hour clock for lawmakers to review the proposal. The House would be able to vote on the bill as soon as Tuesday evening under a rule adopted by the House in January.

The bill wouldn’t cut the current rate of spending for federal programs as some hard-line conservatives have demanded. In some cases, funding rates would be increased for the duration of the CR, including for the procurement of a Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine; for Secret Service operations related to the 2024 presidential campaign; and to support student loan administration as borrower repayments restart after a pandemic-era pause.

The measure also would provide the customary death benefit for the immediate beneficiary of a deceased lawmaker, in this case, the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Feinstein’s daughter, Katherine Anne Feinstein, would receive $174,000.

Other extensions

The measure would extend most lapsed farm bill programs through Sept. 30, 2024, retroactive to the beginning of this fiscal year on Oct. 1. 

A series of expiring health care provisions would also be extended. Programs renewed through Nov. 17 under the current stopgap law would get an extension through Jan. 19, including funding for community health centers and teaching hospitals, special diabetes programs and a delay of Medicaid cuts to so-called “disproportionate share hospitals” which serve predominantly lower-income patients.

The measure would also renew a Medicare physician payment “extender” that doesn’t expire until the end of the year through Jan. 19, and delays for an additional year scheduled changes to Medicare clinical laboratory test payments.

The National Flood Insurance Program would be extended through Feb. 2.

The House Rules Committee added the draft stopgap measure to its Monday meeting agenda, along with the chamber’s Labor-HHS-Education bill.

Senate plans

Despite some indications of Democratic support in the Senate, the bill may still face tough sledding in that chamber.

Earlier this week, Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the two-step funding extension “the craziest, stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.” On Saturday, Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, called the House plan “super convoluted.”

“We’re going to pass a clean short term CR. The only question is whether we do it stupidly and catastrophically or we do it like adults,” Schatz wrote on X.

The two chambers could be in a race to get ahead of each other in passing a continuing resolution.

Senate Democratic leaders had been considering a more conventional stopgap measure that would extend spending for all agencies to Jan. 19.

Under the plan, which is not final, the stopgap would not include aid to Israel or Ukraine. It would, however, extend several expiring authorizations including the farm bill, flood insurance, a health care package and Sec. 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It also could contain money to boost pay for wildland firefighters.

The House’s two-step bill deliberately leaves out a Sec. 702 extension in order to provide “breathing room” for a FISA overhaul measure that’s currently under discussion in both chambers, according to the talking points circulated to GOP members.

No final decisions have been made by Senate leaders, and so the shape of the stopgap could be different, or that chamber could potentially shelve its own version in favor of Johnson’s approach.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday filed cloture on a motion to proceed to the legislative vehicle for the stopgap. A vote is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday. 

David Lerman contributed to this report.

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