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On spending, House Republicans are almost back where they started

A partial government shutdown is a week away

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., making a statement to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Friday. Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

On spending, House Republicans are almost back where they started

WASHINGTON—With less than two weeks until short-term funding runs out for some government agencies, House Speaker Mike Johnson’s direction—or lack thereof—on spending has reopened turmoil within the Republican conference.

Following a meeting with several fellow Republicans on Thursday morning, Johnson stated that he remained “uncommitted” to any spending plan for 2024, reintroducing ambiguity to Republican efforts to avert a partial government shutdown ahead of the first funding deadline on Jan. 19. Johnson’s announcement, which caught many members of his own party off-guard, casts doubt on the deal he negotiated over the weekend with Democrats on topline numbers for this year.

Then this morning, Johnson held a news conference and returned to the message that his deal secured concrete Republican wins.

“Our topline agreement remains—we are getting our next steps together and working towards a robust appropriations process. So stay tuned for all of that to develop,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s changes in messaging have left some members of his party unclear on the leadership’s next steps. When asked if Johnson had communicated those steps to the conference, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, shook his head.

“No, he hasn’t,” Crenshaw said. “I’m going to find out.”

Some of the most conservative members of the House have put pressure on Johnson to return to the drawing board and negotiate a new spending package. When the speaker sent out a summary of his agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday afternoon, many House conservatives balked at what they saw as a lack of conservative wins.

“It’s terrible,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We keep spending more money we don’t have.”

Members like Roy object to the marginal cuts in the Johnson-Schumer deal. The agreement would cut $16 billion from the country’s discretionary spending budget—just 0.3 percent reduction in overall spending—while costs of other areas such as Medicare, Social Security, and welfare would likely go up.

That protest came to a head on Wednesday when 12 Republicans tanked a procedural vote, effectively blocking further legislation from coming to the House floor. The move echoes the last few months of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s tenure. Heavy resistance from the most conservative factions of the GOP first locked up the party’s ability to advance other legislative priorities. Then a reluctant agreement to keep the government open forced Congress to implement a temporary stopgap measure, called a continuing resolution (CR).

Johnson previously said he won’t do any more short-term funding bills, but Republicans leaving the Thursday morning meeting affirmed that the speaker had shifted his thinking.

“There was a mutual understanding that a CR of some kind is coming,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said while leaving Johnson’s office. “There are some that believe that should be a short-term CR, a long-term CR. [There are] some that believe it should be less CR-flavored and more border-fight flavored. Those were the various things we were discussing.”

As news began to circulate that a short-term funding resolution might come to the floor soon, Republicans had mixed reactions. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., when asked whether he would vote in favor of such a package, declined to comment, saying that was something the party needed to figure out. Other Republicans, however, embraced the idea openly.

“I don’t think there’s any appetite for a government shutdown,” Rep. John Duarte, R-Calif., said. “We have a two-seat majority, we don’t have the White House, we don’t have the Senate. The Speaker has my support and the vast majority of our support. I believe we’re going to keep the government open.”

For now, even the most hardline conservatives in the House have stayed clear of any mention of removing Johnson. A frustrated Rep. Bob Good, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, condemned Johnson’s spending package but has so far declined to comment about the speaker’s future, and when asked about the parallels between Johnson and McCarthy, Good waved off reporters.

“Why is that all you guys want to ask about?” Good said.

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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