WASHINGTON — After rejecting the idea of a two-step strategy to fund the government, House Democrats signaled Monday that they are open to backing Speaker Mike Johnson’s plan, significantly reducing the threat of a painful shutdown at the end of the week.
With a handful of conservatives rebelling against the funding bill, that means Johnson will need help from Democrats to get it through the chamber.
On Monday afternoon, House Democratic leaders said they are considering supporting the Johnson strategy. And across the Capitol, Johnson’s plan got a bipartisan boost from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suggesting the continuing resolution, or CR, is likely to cruise through the upper house chamber, if possible, first pass out of the house. The lower house plans to take up the bill on Tuesday.
Shortly after Johnson unveiled his “ladder” CR over the weekend, the White House panned it as an “extreme” and “frivolous proposal” that would lead to more GOP chaos and dysfunction shortly after the party’s three-week speaker debacle.
But on Monday, President Joe Biden would not commit to vetoing Johnson’s CR if it came to his desk.
“I’m not going to make a decision about what I would veto and what I would sign. Let’s see what they come up with,” Biden told reporters.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for the Democrats. Just four days ago, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, DN.Y., ripped the laddered CR concept, saying neither Democrats nor the American public could understand it.
“The notion of a ladder CR is another extreme, right-wing political joyride that is reckless and would only crash and burn the federal government,” Jeffries said at his weekly news conference Thursday. “It’s a non-starter.”
But Johnson’s proposal, unveiled over the weekend, is a so-called “clean” CR with no spending cuts and no controversial policy riders, a significant concession to Democratic demands.
The two-step approach would extend funding for part of the government — including agriculture, transportation and veterans affairs — until Jan. 19 and fund defense and other remaining parts of the government until Feb. 2.
In a letter to colleagues on Monday, Jeffries said the central mission of Congress is to keep the government funded and that top Democratic leaders are “carefully evaluating the proposal put forward by the Republican leadership and discussing it with members.”
Clearly, Johnson will have to rely on Democrats to pass his first major piece of legislation, given his razor-thin majority and rising GOP defections.
Already, at least eight House conservatives have said they will vote no on Johnson’s plan, and many more could join that group. After incumbent Gabe Amo, DR.I, is sworn in Monday, Johnson can only afford to lose three Republicans on his funding bill.
At least one Democrat – Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who is running for president against Biden – told NBC News he will vote for Johnson’s bill.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than a shutdown,” he said.
In addition to postponing a battle over spending cuts until next year, Johnson’s CR does not include other politically sensitive issues such as aid to Israel, Ukraine or Taiwan; humanitarian assistance to Palestinians and others; as well as border security regulations.
These games will be played until after Thanksgiving.
It does, however, extend the farm bill through Sept. 30 — a major sweetener for rural lawmakers and Democrats who like federal food and nutrition programs for low-income families.
The bipartisan CR had been devised by members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, who see the staggered funding cuts as a way to pressure Congress to reach agreements on individual appropriations bills. But conservatives blasted the Johnson plan for various reasons, including that it contained no spending cuts or border regulations.
“We got nothing, nothing but an expansion of the farm bill that is tagged on a continuation of existing spending policies of $1.6 trillion,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, to reporters Monday. “There is no way I can sell that to a single one of my constituents.”
Other conservative Republicans opposed to Johnson’s CR plan include Reps. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Warren Davidson of Ohio, Bob Good of Virginia, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and George Santos of New York.
“I will not support a status quo that fails to recognize fiscal irresponsibility and changes absolutely nothing while encouraging a Senate that does nothing and a fiscally illiterate president,” Perry, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said on X .
An early test for Johnson’s proposal will come on Tuesday, when the House takes up the CR rule. Rules governing how legislation gets to the floor are typically passed by the majority party, but in this case Johnson may need some Democrats to pass the rule.
More than 50 Democrats helped Republicans pass the rule on legislation to raise the debt ceiling in May. A GOP aide said leadership is also considering advancing the CR “under suspension,” which would require two-thirds support from the entire House if they don’t have the GOP votes to pass the rule.
Senators had devised a plan B to keep the government open, but it now appears they may not need to. Schumer announced Monday night that the Senate was “pausing our plans” to allow the House to move first.
“I’ve said on multiple occasions that if we’re going to work together to keep the government open, Speaker Johnson will have to avoid pushing steep cuts or poison pills that Democrats can’t support,” Schumer said in a speech. “For now, I’m glad Speaker Johnson is moving in our direction.”