House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), facing the first big test of his leadership since taking on the role a little over two weeks ago, proposed Saturday to avoid a government shutdown set to begin after next Friday by temporarily extending funding into early 2024.
While the proposed bill would have funding expire for different agencies at different times, it could also antagonize the part of his party that wants to see spending cuts as quickly as possible and potentially put his job on the line.
Johnson sold the plan as a way to clear the decks for House Republicans to fight on more politically friendly turf through the end of the year.
“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,” Johnson posted on social media after a rare weekend House Republican conference call.
The reception at the White House was tepid.
“This proposal is just a recipe for more Republican chaos and more shutdowns—full stop,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary.
“Republicans need to stop wasting time on their own political divisions, do their jobs, and work in a bipartisan way to prevent a shutdown,” she added.
None of the 12 annual individual bills funding most government agencies and programs outside of Social Security and Medicare have passed Congress and been signed into law yet. At the end of September, Congress, with only hours to spare, passed a stopgap bill to keep the government open but only through Friday.
The choice by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to rely on Democratic votes to get that bill over the finish line in the House set off an uproar within the House GOP that saw him become the first speaker removed from the post by a House vote.
It also set off three weeks of squabbling by House Republicans as they tried to figure out who should succeed McCarthy. After two candidates bailed before they could even get a floor vote and one could not get the required 217 votes, the little-known Johnson emerged as the compromise winner.
But the decision to offer a relatively “clean” stopgap bill — one without objectionable policy add-ons or funding cuts likely to draw serious Democratic opposition — will likely upset party hardliners who want to see spending cuts.
“It’s 100% clean. And I 100% oppose,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a member of the House Freedom Caucus and perennial spending hawk, in a social media post.
Democrats have said they would only support a clean extension without conditions or add-ons. But a Senate leadership aide said Saturday, “It’s a good thing the speaker didn’t include unnecessary cuts and kept defense funding with the second group of programs.”
Johnson’s task is difficult because Republicans can only afford to lose four GOP votes if they do not want to rely on Democratic votes to pass the bill. Democrats will likely object to the “two-step” nature of the bill, where some departments like Agriculture, Justice, Veterans Affairs and Transportation would only be funded through Jan. 19, while big-ticket departments, like Defense and Health and Human Services, would be funded through Feb. 2.
The bill would also extend programs that help farmers through September of next year as a new farm bill is negotiated.
After closing the House for three weeks while picking a new speaker, many Republicans are gun shy about being potentially blamed for a government shutdown so soon afterward. But, as Johnson noted, there are other areas aside from the budget where Republicans expect to fight with Democrats, including aid to Israel and Ukraine, border security policy and a revamp of domestic anti-terror surveillance rules.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting to this story.