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Forced into a corner

GOP populists maneuver Speaker McCarthy into a big-spending continuing resolution

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Sept. 29. Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Forced into a corner
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Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, relying on more than 200 Democrats while losing 90 Republicans, passed a continuing resolution to keep the government open. The Senate, Saturday night, agreed to the measure. The resolution prevents a government shutdown for 45 days. Given the antics of some Republicans in the House, Congress may very well go through this again at that time.

Unfortunately for conservatives, the passage of a “clean” continuing resolution that makes no changes to government funding except $16 billion in new funding for disaster relief, means making any meaningful cuts were off the table. Republican congressman Don Bacon told reporters after passage that “whack jobs” in the Republican caucus had killed a better plan, leading to “an outcry from rank-and-file" for a clean CR.

Bacon, from Nebraska, joined his House Republican colleagues in supporting a plan that would have cut government by eight percent. The plan received the support of House Republican leaders, moderates, liberals, conservatives, and populists. It had been structured by a wide range of internal House Republican groups from the Republican Study Committee, Mainstreet Caucus, Freedom Caucus, and others. The plan would have cut government spending by eight percent, while leaving defense spending and veterans spending untouched. It also would have expanded border security, but would not have funded Ukraine.

The plan would never have passed the Senate. But Republicans intended for it to be their opening point in negotiations. Essentially, by passing that framework, House Republicans intended to begin negotiating with the Senate insisting on some government cuts while increasing border security. But a group of populists in the House, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., scuttled the plan.

No one really could ascertain what would get any of the Republican no voters to yes.

Gaetz wanted to set in motion a scenario where Speaker McCarthy would have to rely on Democrats to pass a continuing resolution, thereby hoping that would generate enough Republican opposition to McCarthy to oust him. Gaetz and McCarthy have an unexplained animosity towards each other. Republicans could only lose four members without relying on Democrats. At times, upwards of 20 Republicans refused to support various proposals. Six remained opposed to the original plan for cuts. Each had their own reason and together their reasons were both incompatible and destructive of the whole plan.

The result of the chaos was a series of votes that failed repeatedly, moving the government closer to a shutdown. While many of the most ardent conservatives in the House were not opposed to a shutdown, there actually was no competing plan to what Republican leaders wanted. Gaetz didn’t have a proposal to unite House Republicans, and neither did any of the other more populist Republicans. They claimed to oppose Ukraine funding, but the other proposals opposed Ukraine funding. They claimed they wanted more border security, but several of the House Republican proposals not just did that but also cut government spending overall. No one really could ascertain what would get any of the Republican no voters to yes.

In the end, House Republicans structured a continuing resolution with no cuts, no border security funding, and no Ukraine funding. Rushing through their final proposals, Republicans were saved from the story being solely about their failures by progressive Congressman Jamaal Bowen. Bowen pulled a fire alarm in the Cannon House Office Building, purportedly to buy Democrats some time to review the continuing resolution.

Bowen claimed he was trying to open a security door, which could have been pushed open. He claimed he thought pulling the fire alarm would cancel the emergency alarm on the doors. Bowen is a former high school principal who has, undoubtedly, triggered many a fire alarm. The most remarkable part of the incident was how so much of the press was willing to treat his excuses as plausible.

By nightfall in Washington on Saturday, the House and Senate bought themselves 45 more days to figure out how to fund the government. Ukraine funding supporters intend to tie border security to funding Ukraine. They most likely have the votes. House Republicans had rallied around real cuts in the size of government. But with such narrow margins in the House, a few malcontented populists who had no plans of their own forced the GOP to scrap meaningful cuts to government and side with House Democrats to keep the government open. It was a rare moment of bipartisanship all sparked by Matt Gaetz’s hatred of Kevin McCarthy.

Erick Erickson

Erick Erickson is a lawyer by training, has been a political campaign manager and consultant, helped start one of the premiere grassroots conservative websites in the world, served as a political contributor for CNN and Fox News, and hosts the Erick Erickson Show broadcast nationwide.

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