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Washington Wednesday: Back to basics


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: Back to basics

Many House Republicans want tougher negotiations in order to break the cycle of omnibus funding packages

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., Chairman of the House Freedom Caucus Getty Images/Photo by Kevin Dietsch

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 27th of March, 2024.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Washington Wednesday.

The federal government is now funded through September…but some House Republicans are frustrated with the way the final agreement came together. The bill is similar to previous end-of-year spending deals: thousands of pages of spending priorities unveiled at the last minute…and this one didn’t address border security the way many Republicans had hoped.

Discretionary spending totaled $1.66 trillion dollars … the key word discretionary. The total spending level, per the Congressional Budget Office, $6-1/2 trillion dollars.

REICHARD: So what did Republicans take away from fiscal year 2024? And what can they do better in 2025? WORLD’s Washington bureau reporter, Leo Briceno, reports

LEO BRICENO, REPORTER: With spending done for the year, Republicans are already looking ahead for different results in 2025.

AMODEI: Am I happy with where we’re at, am I mission accomplished? Absolutely not.

I caught Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada outside the Capitol. He’s one of the 12 Republican negotiators who helped shape this year’s spending legislation. My question to him: how can House Republicans score conservative policy wins when Democrats control the Senate and the White House?

Amodei believes part of that answer is getting right back to work after the House reconvenes on April 9th.

AMODEI: So when you say what have we learned from the Senate, it’s like you know what? This has been going on since John Boehner, that I was here for. And so it’s like hey, looking down the street for what’s coming up at the end of this next cycle, there’s something you need to be doing now.

John Boehner was the House speaker from 2011 to 2015. Boehner—like Johnson—struggled to rein in government spending with divided government.

By the way, the squealing you’re hearing in the background is the metal security barriers going down as lawmakers drive away from the House of Representatives.

AMODEI: And so if you want results, then I’m interested in what your plan is to change things that will get us some results. In terms of doing all 12 bills, doing them transparently, blah blah blah, I’m like that’s all good stuff. I love it. But don’t turn it into “Hey, the cure is worse than the sickness.”

He’s talking about the 12 appropriations bills—the individual pieces of legislation that are supposed to fund the government. For the past 40 years, Congress has failed to pass them on time—instead passing last-minute omnibus packages that fund the government all in one go.

This year, House Speaker Mike Johnson tried to get away from the omnibus but only partially succeeded. Instead of passing one giant bill, he passed two smaller ones.

For Conservative Republicans like Virginia Representative Bob Good, that change isn’t good enough.

GOOD: I don’t think it’s significant that it’s two minibuses instead of one omnibus. I think the speaker is committed to trying to pass 12 bills out of the house that reflect Republican priorities and I hope will cut our spending. But when the Senate says no—and they will say no—I don’t know what will be different if we’re not willing to walk away from the Senate and say here’s our deal, take it or leave it.

Representative Good is also the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, and he wants the House to take a tougher stand in the future.

The issue with that approach is that it invites a government shutdown—or at least a partial one. And in the past, shutdowns haven’t led to decreased spending, but backpay for government workers once funding is resolved.

Some Republicans don’t believe Speaker Johnson has the political spine or the negotiating chops to go there, instead settling for more marginal negotiations. That’s left at least one Republican calling for his job: Georgia representative, Marjorie Taylor Green.

GREENE: The Republican speaker of the house handed over every ounce of negotiating power to Chuck Schumer and the Democrats and went ahead and funded the government . This was our leverage. This was our chance to secure the border and he didn’t do it.

On Friday, Green introduced a motion to vacate. If it came to the floor and a majority of the House voted for it, they would remove Johnson from the speakership. For now, Greene is holding off on bringing her motion to a vote.

GREENE: I’m not saying it won’t happen in two weeks or it won’t happen in a month or who knows when. But I am saying the clock has started. Tt’s time to choose a new speaker…[reporters interrupt]

Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee is one of the eight Republicans who voted last October to remove Johnson’s predecessor, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. I asked Burchett if he would vote to remove a second speaker.

BURCHETT: Today I won’t. I just want to see who we got. Who’s going to be better? That’s what I want to find out.

BRICENO: You want to wait until you have a suitable alternative, is that what you mean?

BURCHETT: Yeah, if we find somebody that I think will do a better job and can get elected, yeah.

REPORTER: Will you be able to find a better option?

BURCHETT: I don’t know. I don’t know, let’s see what happens when we get back.

For now, most House Republicans would prefer not to repeat the drama of choosing a new speaker. And some, like Arizona Representative Eli Crane, say that Johnson has been more up front about what’s going on than McCarthy was.

CRANE: Not a ton has changed, at least in how this place works. Having leadership that is honest and transparent I think is always a big deal.

Reporting for WORLD. I’m Leo Briceno.

REICHARD: Leo, before you go, I’ve got a few follow up questions.

Congressman Amodei mentioned a lot is coming in the next funding cycle. What are some of the biggest pieces Congress will be working on?

BRICENO: So for now, I think they're going to take a break from government spending. Speaker Johnson has hinted at the fact that he might bring up the Ukraine package that's being discussed in the House, that will include some Israel aid, some Taiwan aid. But with that, also come considerations for the southern border, as Republicans have repeatedly stressed that they're not really willing to move on that Ukraine aid without first also doing something on the border. So you can expect that to be a part of the conversation there. Additionally, in April, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA power will expire. This is a really controversial tool that gives the intelligence agencies the power to look at private communications on any device, basically. And in theory, it's only ever supposed to be used on non-Americans. But recent reports and disclosures from inside the intelligence community have really revealed that that's not what's been going on that the tool has been abused to spy on Americans, to spy on political campaigns, to spy on journalists. And so Congress really wants to make sure that they're reforming that in such a way that maintains the power so that the intelligence community can do its job, but that also protects the privacy of individual citizens. So expect those all to be on the horizon. And believe it or not, Congress will probably have to, in short order—maybe in the next month or so— get back on the horse and start working on appropriations for 2025, which are due in September, by the way, so it's not like we have a long runway there.

REICHARD:One of the challenges the House Speaker faces is his shrinking majority. In 2022, it was just five, and with some more resignations it won’t be long before it’s actually just one. Leo, what role do you think all of this intra-party conflict plays into members just packing up and going home?

BRICENO: I can't say for sure. I'd imagine that's a big part of it for some of them. Patrick McHenry in particular, right. He was McCarthy's right hand man. Seeing his his speaker go home out of, kind of out of, being really pushed out of the role, I can't imagine that that's a reason for him to stick around. But I mean, if you look at the numbers of who's going out, there's an alarming number of moderates that are leaving, like McHenry, influential moderates. But I think it really does remain to be seen what is is there a common underlying factor to all these departures. And I don't think that's really a question we have really good answers to yet. But I suspect that has to be at least a part of the picture.

REICHARD: Leo Briceno covers Congress for World’s Washington Bureau. Thanks for this report!

BRICENO: Sure, absolutely. Thank you, Mary.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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