Rebellious House conservatives allowed the leadership’s floor agenda to get back on track Thursday after they buttonholed Speaker Mike Johnson to try to get him to renegotiate the bipartisan spending deal to seek deeper cuts.
One day after members of the Freedom Caucus and other conservatives derailed unrelated legislation on the House floor in a protest vote, Johnson met in his office for more than 90 minutes with key lawmakers from his party’s right flank in an effort to broker a compromise. While the speaker said he didn’t make any commitments, the GOP holdouts were at least happy enough with what they heard to flip their votes to “yea” on the same rule Thursday.
“We’re having thoughtful conversations about funding options and priorities,” the Louisiana Republican told reporters after the meeting. “While those conversations are going on, I’ve made no commitments. So if you hear otherwise it’s simply not true.”
The rule governing debate on two Congressional Review Act resolutions that would kill regulations from the National Labor Relations Board and Federal Highway Administration, as well as a bill related to government payments into settlement agreements, was adopted on a 211-202 vote.
Only Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., voted “no,” while Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, switched his vote to “present.” On Wednesday, a dozen GOP lawmakers voted against the rule, out of anger over Johnson’s spending deal and lack of movement on border restrictions.
But the new talks threatened to upend a hard-fought agreement and derail final appropriations for the fiscal year that began last October.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who has criticized Freedom Caucus members for “bullying” Johnson, sought to dismiss the new discussions as a sideshow.
“Look, we have a topline agreement,” Schumer told reporters when asked about the meeting. “Everybody knows to get anything done, it has to be bipartisan.”
Some lawmakers leaving the meeting with Johnson earlier left the impression that the speaker had made a commitment to renegotiate the deal, while others said they were still talking.
“We’re talking about a lot of things with the speaker right now,” Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., said. “I think one thing is clear: There are many members of our conference who do not like this topline spending agreement with Chuck Schumer.”
Earlier on Thursday, Schumer announced plans to take a preliminary step toward passing a stopgap funding measure next week that would avoid a partial government shutdown. Funding for the about 20 percent of the government is set to expire on Jan. 19, while the rest would run dry on Feb. 2.
While senators have said a funding patch could last into late February or early March, some House conservatives pressed Johnson to consider a longer-term extension.
That is partly because of a provision in last year’s debt limit suspension law that triggers additional spending cuts if the government operates on a short-term continuing resolution after April 30. If full-year appropriations aren’t enacted by then, the law would trigger a 1 percent cut to defense accounts and a 5 percent cut to nondefense programs.
“That was the best play all along,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a Freedom Caucus founder. “If you’re in a CR after April, there’s the additional pressure to deal with getting the bills done and get the policy that we need in place ….I still think it’s the smartest position.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said some lawmakers are pushing for a short-term funding patch while others want a longer one.
But a longer stopgap measure would likely face opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where leaders are eager to complete final appropriations based on the topline deal that was struck after months of stalemate.
That deal, combined with a “side deal” allowing additional spending, would allow for a roughly 3 percent increase to defense while holding nondefense spending relatively flat. Freedom Caucus members have said they felt hoodwinked by the side deal because it avoided the deep cut to nondefense spending they had sought.
David Jordan and Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.