WASHINGTON – House Republicans on Saturday unveiled their funding bill to avert a government shutdown that was set to begin next weekend. But with just five legislative days left before the deadline, Congress has little room for error.
Just two and a half weeks into the job, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., opted to go with a two-step continuing resolution, or CR, over a more typical funding expansion covering the entire federal government. The untested funding approach is aimed at placating far-right agitators at his GOP conference who despise CRs.
The House is expected to vote as early as Tuesday to give members 72 hours to read the bill, according to two people familiar with the matter. The plan does not include budget cuts or aid to Israel.
Under the two-step strategy — which Johnson and others have dubbed a “laddered CR” but which others have compared to a step stool — several spending bills needed to keep the government open would get a run on a short-term bill until January . 19, while the remaining bills would go on a CR until February 2.
The plan is designed to avoid a messy shutdown showdown just before the holidays and buy Johnson and House Republicans more time to send individual spending bills, but also create a sense of urgency about staggered funding cuts. But it remains to be seen whether the plan can pass the House, much less the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has rejected the two-step approach.
“I think we’re avoiding a shutdown,” Johnson told the New York Post earlier this week.
The laddered plan has the support of the most conservative members of Congress, including Republicans who normally never vote for loophole laws. If Johnson could get a temporary funding bill passed with only Republican votes, it would help him win an early victory among conservatives.
“I like the ladder approach,” the rep said. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. “I think if we try to pass some appropriations bills, we’ll do better than we’ve done in the past.”
But Democrats in both chambers have made it abundantly clear that they hate the idea, and so does the White House — all of whom want a simple extension of government funding without any gimmicks. The Democrats’ united opposition to the CR may mean that the House will ultimately have to swallow the clean or relatively clean CR passed by the Senate.
“I want a clean CR,” declared Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York all but ruled out the two-step approach when pressed by NBC News on Thursday. “A continuing resolution that is at the FY 2023 level is the only way forward because that is the status quo,” he said, calling for a “clean” CR.
Across the capital, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., moved a vote on a separate measure that set the wheels in motion for action next week. The Democratic-led Senate is looking for a clean, continuing resolution that would run through mid-January, without additional funding for Ukraine, Israel and the border, according to two sources directly involved in the process.
But Schumer would likely need a time agreement from all 100 senators to fund the government before Friday’s deadline, something Senate hardliners will be reluctant to grant.
“I plead with President Johnson and our Republican colleagues in the House and learn from the failure of a month ago. Hard-right proposals, hard-right slashes and cuts, hard-right poison pills that have zero support from Democrats will only make one more shutdown likely, Schumer said in a speech.
What is clear is that after last month’s public GOP civil war over the speaker’s gavel, Republicans have little appetite to shut down the government. Even some hardcore conservatives, like Rep. Dan Bishop, RN.C., said they are willing to vote for a CR to keep the government open and don’t care how it is structured.
“I’m open to supporting a CR, and if you’ve been following me, that’s a 180-degree turn,” said Bishop, a member of the Freedom Caucus who is running for attorney general in North Carolina.
He said his wife recently asked what happened in Congress this week. He answered: To find out “what the functions of CR are going to be.”
“I just don’t think Americans care that much,” Bishop added.