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Senate leaders give green light to Johnson stopgap funds plan

Encouraging signs in both chambers for avoiding a government shutdown at week's end

President Joe Biden, seen during an event to celebrate the Vegas Golden Knights’ 2023 Stanley Cup victory on Monday, has been noncommittal about his position.
President Joe Biden, seen during an event to celebrate the Vegas Golden Knights’ 2023 Stanley Cup victory on Monday, has been noncommittal about his position. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate leaders of both parties sent encouraging signals Monday for Speaker Mike Johnson’s two-step stopgap funding measure to avoid a partial government shutdown at week’s end.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., stopped short of endorsing the new continuing resolution, but he said Johnson “seems to be moving in our direction by advancing a CR that does not include the highly partisan cuts that Democrats have warned against.”

Schumer also delayed a planned procedural vote Monday night on a legislative shell for a competing stopgap funding plan that Senate leaders had been working on as a backstop.

“We are pausing on our plans to move forward on a Senate vehicle to allow the House to move first with their proposal,” Schumer said. “The speaker’s proposal is far from perfect, but the most important thing is that it refrains from making steep cuts while avoiding a costly government shutdown.”

The bill by the Louisiana Republican would extend current funding in two phases. Funding for 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 annual appropriations bills would be extended a little longer, to Feb. 2.

Schumer said he was pleased the bill does not call for spending cuts sought by the GOP’s right flank, and saves the Defense bill for the second batch of bills to be resolved by February. Democrats have expressed concern they would lose their leverage over the Labor-HHS-Education bill and other bills funding domestic agencies if Republicans passed a Defense bill first.

While the bill includes a one-year extension of the 2018 farm bill, it would provide none of the $106 billion in emergency spending that President Joe Biden is seeking for Israel, Ukraine, the U.S.-Mexico border and Indo-Pacific region. That funding would await separate legislation after Thanksgiving while wars in the Gaza Strip and Ukraine rage on.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a vocal advocate for the emergency spending, nonetheless endorsed Johnson’s bill Monday.

“House Republicans have produced a responsible measure that will keep the lights on, avoid a harmful lapse in federal spending and to finish that important work,” McConnell said on the floor. “I will continue to support the CR and encourage my colleagues to do the same thing.”

And in another hopeful sign for Johnson, President Joe Biden took a neutral stance on the bill Monday, telling reporters: “I’m not going to make a judgment on what I’d veto and what I’d sign. Let’s see what they come up with.”

Skipping the rule

Johnson has little margin for error with a slim GOP majority as he struggles to win bipartisan support without alienating some of his party’s fiscal hawks. A handful of conservatives have already vowed to oppose the bill.

“It continues to perpetuate the very system my constituents sent me here to oppose,” said Texas Rep. Chip Roy, a Rules Committee member and leader in the rebellious Freedom Caucus who declared his opposition within hours of the bill’s release over the weekend.

“They don’t want me to continue spending money we don’t have, a $1.6 trillion level spending level” and policies enacted during the tenure of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as speaker, Roy said.

Another Rules and Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, said he would “probably” vote for the rule in committee, to allow it to move forward and give the full chamber a chance to vote on it. However, he said he’d vote against it on the floor.

“There’s no spending cuts, no toplines, no border security,” he said. “The country’s on fire with that.”

Opposition from Roy and several of his allies likely would be enough to sink a rule needed to bring the bill to a floor vote, since rules are typically adopted on party-line votes.

To avoid that problem, House leaders decided to avoid a rule vote altogether by putting the bill on the floor under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote to pass. 

Rules Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., earlier said Republicans plan to vote on the bill Tuesday, and were trending toward suspending the rules.

“You’d have to ask somebody above my pay grade, but it seems to be breaking that way,” he said.

The Rules Committee late Monday reported out a rule for taking up the fiscal 2024 Labor-HHS-Education bill, without addressing the CR.

A floor vote on a rule could have potentially squeaked through, however, if Democrats splintered. At least one Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, was quoted as saying Monday he would be willing to vote for a CR rule if needed to ensure its adoption. 

Norman said he didn’t think Johnson would suffer the same fate that his predecessor, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, did — losing his gavel when he advanced a “clean” continuing resolution under suspension of the rules — if the new speaker went that route.

“McCarthy had one thing that was a problem: trust,” Norman said. “I trust Mike Johnson.”

House Democrats coy

House Democrats have sent mixed signals on whether they would support Johnson’s measure, though sources familiar with the discussions said they did not plan to whip their members to vote “no.”

In a letter to colleagues Monday, Democratic leaders effectively kept their options open to see how events unfold.

“At this time, we are carefully evaluating the proposal set forth by Republican leadership and discussing it with Members,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York wrote in a joint letter with Democratic Whip Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts and Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar of California.

“While House Republicans have abandoned a laddered funding approach with multiple expiration dates, we remain concerned with the bifurcation of the continuing resolution in January and February 2024,” they wrote. “In addition, the failure of House Republicans to address the national security and domestic supplemental funding priorities of the American people is also troublesome.”

At the Rules Committee meeting, ranking Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said he was troubled by the lack of extra funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The administration had requested $1.4 billion for the program in August as part of a package of “anomalies” it wanted to see included in a stopgap measure, citing higher participation rates.

“This bill shortchanges the program, and we need to make the program whole as soon as possible to avoid wait lists for benefits,” McGovern said. “Everybody up here has people in their district who rely on this basic nutrition program.”