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Relatively smooth sailing seen for stopgap bill in House

Despite grumbles from left and right, bill to avoid shutdown considered likely to pass

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., leaves a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center where he addressed the continuing resolution to fund the government on Tuesday.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., leaves a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center where he addressed the continuing resolution to fund the government on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats appear likely to provide enough support for Speaker Mike Johnson’s stopgap spending bill needed to keep the government open, putting the bill on a clear path toward passage Tuesday afternoon. 

Johnson, R-La., and House Republicans are planning on moving the bill under suspension of the rules as they do not have the 218 Republican votes needed to adopt the rule if all members are voting. This will require two-thirds support, which means the continuing resolution needs broad backing from Democrats as dozens of Republicans have said they will not back the bill, which is set for a 4:30 p.m. vote.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus, which came out in opposition to the stopgap measure earlier in the day, appeared to be making their displeasure known to Johnson on the House floor Tuesday. They briefly held up adoption of the rule needed to advance the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill.

“It contains no spending reductions, no border security, and not a single meaningful win for the American People,” the Freedom Caucus statement on the CR said. “Republicans must stop negotiating against ourselves over fears of what the Senate may do with the promise ‘roll over today and we’ll fight tomorrow.’” 

Johnson huddled with Freedom Caucus members including former Chairman Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Chip Roy, R-Texas, Bob Good, R-Va., and others on the House floor. Some members of the group then voted for the rule, which was adopted on a 217-209 party-line vote, before returning to their conversation with Johnson.

Johnson defended the bill after meeting with GOP members Tuesday morning, saying it allows Republicans to turn to fighting for spending cuts and conservative policy wins in the regular fiscal 2024 appropriations process. 

Telling reporters “I’m one of those arch-conservatives,” he emphasized making steady progress, arguing “you can’t turn around an aircraft carrier overnight.” 

“We’re not surrendering, we’re fighting,” Johnson said. “But you have to be wise about the fights you go into.” 

Selling point for Democrats

The measure’s lack of conservative policy riders or spending cuts was proving to be a selling point for Democrats even as it’s causing Freedom Caucus and other GOP hard-liners to reject it.

“We’ve made clear, there should be no spending cuts, and we’ve made clear there should be no poisonous political, partisan policy provisions,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said after a meeting with his caucus. “Those are two important factors in our evaluation process.”

While Jeffries stopped short of explicitly endorsing the legislation, Democrats leaving the meeting said they are likely to support it, despite some misgivings about the bill’s two-tiered end dates. 

Funding for agencies in the Agriculture; Energy-Water; Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD bills would be extended to Jan. 19, while the agencies covered by the other eight annual appropriations bills would be extended to Feb. 2. 

While some Republicans had been pushing for the House’s Defense bill to be included in the first batch, that would have alienated Democrats who would not want it to be considered separately from their nondefense priorities. 

“I prefer it weren’t tiered, but they’ve put [Labor-HHS-Education] and Defense together so they can’t play games with that,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said. “I’m inclined to vote for it, at the moment.” 

The opposition from some House Republicans will not affect the outcome of the legislation as long as enough Democrats get on board. Jeffries said he is having ongoing discussions with Johnson about the bill, but declined to elaborate. 

Jeffries said Democrats are continuing to “express concerns with the bifurcated deadlines that seem to be somewhat unprecedented and we’re evaluating the potential adverse impact of that on the American people” before reaching a final decision on the bill. 

But Democrats ranging from Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., to New Democrat Coalition Chair Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., spoke positively about the bill Tuesday, making it clear Democrats are moving toward providing Johnson the votes he needs to offset GOP losses.

Kuster said she expects Democratic votes for the bill, but wants to see additional funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children added. President Joe Biden requested $1.4 billion for the WIC program in August, which House Republicans have left out. 

“I don’t know why they would leave something like that out,” Kuster said. “It’s almost as though the cruelty is the point. And so I want to make sure that we get resolved on that. But look, our people want to keep the government open.” 

Kuster said she also wanted an assurance from Johnson that he would bring a supplemental funding bill, including money for Ukraine, Israel and humanitarian aid to Gaza to the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters there were ongoing conversations between Johnson and Jeffries about WIC, which the administration says needs extra money to cope with rising prices and participation. 

“We’ll see where it comes out,” Schumer said.

‘Two fiscal cliffs’

Jayapal said the fact the bill continues fiscal 2023 spending levels without controversial policy riders is a “big win” for Democrats, though she has some misgivings about the two-step approach. The Progressive Caucus will meet later Tuesday to discuss the legislation, she said. 

“I’m worried that it’s two fiscal cliffs, but I think we’re gonna have to weigh the fact that the Senate seems to have not acted,” she said. 

Schumer delayed a planned Monday night procedural vote on a legislative shell for a competing stopgap bill his chamber was putting together following Johnson’s release of his plan. Senate leaders have given the green light to the House bill, assuming it can pass in that chamber.

“If this can avoid a shutdown, it will be a good thing,” Schumer said Tuesday.

Any one senator can slow down passage, however. Using that chamber’s arcane procedural rules, it would be theoretically possible to delay final passage for days, into the weekend and cutting into lawmakers’ Thanksgiving recess. 

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he would push for a vote on an amendment he plans to offer that would cut 2 percent of all discretionary spending.

“We had a trillion dollars in debt in the last three months,” he said. “Our deficit is going to be over $2 trillion. And so I think we have to cut spending. It’s the only responsible thing to do.” 

But Paul said he expects to be granted a vote on his amendment so that he would not hold up final passage of the bill.

David Lerman and Paul M. Krawzak contributed to this report.

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