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GOP spending plan builds on former speaker’s design

Republicans have little time before budget deadline

The Treasury Building in Washington. D.C. Associated Press/Photo by Patrick Semansky

GOP spending plan builds on former speaker’s design

House Speaker Mike Johnson has struck his first bipartisan deal, setting a path to fund the government in 2024.

While many of the details have yet to be hashed out in the 12 appropriations bills making their way through Congress, the speaker has agreed to $1.5 trillion in non-defense spending for 2024. The amount follows the parameters of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the result of an agreement between former House Speaker Kevin McMcCarthy and President Joe Biden last year.

“It reflects the funding levels that I negotiated with both parties and signed into law last spring,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday. “It rejects deep cuts to programs hardworking families count on, and provides a path to passing full-year funding bills that deliver for the American people and are free of any extreme policies.”

While the agreement marks a big step toward funding the government in 2024, Johnson will have just eight legislative days to put the plan in action when Congress reconvenes on Tuesday. The government is operating off of temporary funding that Congress approved in November. Part of that funding runs out on January 19, while other portions will expire on Feb. 2.

In a messaging guide sent to House Republicans on Sunday afternoon, Johnson celebrated that the agreement bucks a recent trend of passing annual spending bills at the last minute as one large package known an an omnibus bill. By considering 12 individual appropriations bills, members can have more say in the content of each budget. The agreement also rolls back non-defense spending to lower levels than in 2023. And it secures $886 billion for defense—a 3 percent increase from last year.

Jared Pincin, associate professor of economics at Cedarville University, believes the deal’s significance is less about the slash to the deficit and more about revitalizing the 12-bill appropriations method, a process Republicans believe will bring greater transparency to the budget process.

“Given his razor thin majority, the deal is probably the best he can do,” Pincin said. “Keeping control of the appropriations process is an important step towards hopefully normalizing the budget process again.”

If Republicans can’t coalesce around the agreement before their first deadline on Jan. 19, or if they fail to pass the remaining appropriations bills, Johnson could pass an omnibus package—and still slash spending.

As a part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, then–Speaker Kevin McCarthy worked to secure a commitment from President Joe Biden to cut future spending—an agreement Republicans could fall back on if Democrats stonewalled appropriations legislation. Ultimately, the two parties settled on a contingency plan: If the House of Representatives had to pass another omnibus bill to fund the government in 2024, it would trigger a 1 percent reduction across the board for the government’s discretionary spending.

“From a perspective of the size of the cut, it really wouldn’t be all that much,” Pincin said. “The benefit is that everyone has to share that burden. It’s not just one department of the government that suddenly has to figure things out. But it is an indiscriminate cut.”

The federal government spent $6.13 trillion in 2023, according to the U.S. Treasury. Of that, roughly $1.7 trillion was considered “discretionary,” or non-mandatory. A 1 percent cut would about a $20 billion reduction—which is a slightly larger cut than the one negotiated by Johnson.

But that plan carries some strategic risks. Pincin explained that the text of the bill doesn’t tell federal agencies where to cut spending.

“If you cut 1 percent of the [Department of Agriculture’s] budget, my fear is that the department is going to say, ‘What are the most publicized cuts that we can make to make this look bad?’ And it could be something like food stamps,” Pincin said.

An inability to secure spending cuts and move away from omnibus budgeting led to much of McCarthy’s trouble with his own party. Three months after McCarthy’s removal, Johnson’s proposal falls within the bounds of what McCarthy originally secured. It may not be enough to satisfy his right flank.

So far, the House of Representatives has passed eight of the 12 appropriations bills, the Senate has passed one, and the president has yet to sign any of them into law.

Pincin said that passing the remaining bills would boost Johnson’s position as speaker.

“If he’s able to pull that off it would show, at least in the short run, that he is someone who is taking seriously the job of what he’s supposed to do.” Pincin said. “I would want to see a House speaker who could make the House function again.”

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD reporter covering politics in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Patrick Henry College.

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