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Johnson: Topline spending pact won’t be torn up

Speaker says spending agreement will lead to ‘robust’ appropriations finish. First up: stopgap bill

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Friday.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Mike Johnson reiterated support Friday for the fiscal 2024 spending agreement he negotiated in face of opposition from members of the House Freedom Caucus, who’ve been lobbying him to toss the deal. 

Johnson, R-La., told reporters that while he is seeking feedback from across his conference, he is committed to the “strong” deal he negotiated with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.. 

“Our topline agreement remains, we are getting our next steps together, and we are working toward a robust appropriations process,” he said. 

Twelve members of Johnson’s right flank tanked an unrelated procedural vote Wednesday in protest of the deal, and Johnson has been meeting with both opponents and supporters of the agreement this week. 

Next week, Congress will face a more pressing Jan. 19 spending deadline for agencies covered under four of the 12 annual appropriations bills. Schumer took the first procedural step needed for a stopgap spending bill Thursday, filing cloture on the motion to proceed to a shell vehicle. 

The Senate’s continuing resolution is expected to last until March, sources familiar with the talks say. But while Johnson has said he is “not ruling out” the need for another continuing resolution, he has not yet said definitively whether or not he would support one. 

And that stopgap measure will be essential to keep the government open, as Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, are continuing to negotiate over the final subcommittee allocations, also known as 302(b)s. 

Negotiators will need about a month to wrap up their work after those allocations are finalized, House Appropriations ranking member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said Friday. 

Appropriators had aimed to finalize those allocations this week. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chairman of the House Transportation-HUD subcommittee, said Friday he hoped the allocations would be done over the weekend. 

However, Cole said the allocation for the Department of Homeland Security is a sticking point in those talks amid ongoing Senate negotiations on migrant and border policy, which are connected to the push for war funding for Israel and Ukraine. There’s no indication that the Senate negotiations are close to a breakthrough. 

“I think one of the concerns is Homeland because we don’t know if there’s going to be a supplemental that has extra money for that or not,” Cole said. 

Johnson has taken an active role in the subcommittee allocations process, which leadership usually leaves more on the plate of appropriators. He has been pushing to limit DHS funding, a shift for Republicans, with the belief that could inspire President Joe Biden to make concessions Republicans want, sources say. 

‘Constructive conversations’

As those talks continue, Johnson is trying to manage pushback from the right over the spending deal, which is tens of billions of dollars above what they hoped for. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good, R-Va., said the group is having “constructive conversations” with Johnson.

“He’s trying to see what he can get out of conference,” Good said. 

Good and some other Republicans want Johnson to pursue a full-year CR, which would lead to flat defense spending from fiscal 2023 and potentially 9 percent nondefense cuts due to the caps in the text of the debt limit law. 

However, Republican appropriators and defense hawks are both very much against the yearlong stopgap, which doesn’t appear to have the support to pass either chamber. 

The topline agreement between Johnson and Schumer would bolster nondefense appropriations by $69 billion above the cap, a total which was negotiated in last summer’s debt limit talks. Johnson was able to secure an additional $16 billion in rescissions of previously appropriated IRS and pandemic funding in his negotiations with Schumer.

“The topline agreement includes hard-won concessions to cut more billions from the IRS giveaway and the COVID-era slush funds,” Johnson said. “It replaces accounting agreements from the previous [debt limit] agreement.” 

Johnson met with some swing-district members and supporters of his deal on Friday morning, including senior appropriators Ken Calvert, R-Calif., the Defense appropriations chairman, and David Joyce, R-Ohio, who leads the Homeland Security spending subcommittee.

Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., attended the meeting and said the group had a “very robust dialogue” with Johnson. 

“Consensus is not unanimity, but we assured him that we support the framework that he negotiated in the hope, most importantly, that we can aggressively move forward with appropriations bills,” Molinaro said. 

Calvert and Molinaro aren’t among the most endangered House Republicans, according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, but still face tough races. Molinaro’s race is rated Tilt Republican, one notch safer than a Toss-up, while Calvert’s is Lean Republican.

Along with the pending subcommittee allocations, a dispute over policy riders could also slow the process. The topline agreement between Johnson and Schumer did not include any agreement on policy riders, and Johnson has vowed to fight for conservative wins in the talks. 

However, Democrats are staunchly opposed to any new policy riders being added to the bills. 

“They’re not being negotiated, we are not going to negotiate on riders,” DeLauro said Thursday. “Riders are there, they need to be gone. We are not going to accept any of these poison pill riders.” 

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

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