U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., speaks during a news conference after a weekly Republican conference meeting in the U.S. Capitol Building on Nov. 14, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House took a broadly bipartisan vote Tuesday to fund the government into the new year, though the measure must pass the Senate by the end of the week if Congress is going to avoid a partial government shutdown.
The 336-95 House vote was the first major legislative test for Speaker Mike Johnson, the Louisiana Republican who took on the role after the former speaker was ousted after passing a similar bipartisan short-term funding bill in late September.
A total of 93 House Republicans voted against the bill, including Wisconsin Republican Reps. Mike Gallagher and Tom Tiffany, but enough Democrats supported it, including Wisconsin’s Democratic Reps Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore, to send the measure to the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Tuesday that he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, both agree the Senate needs to pass the bill quickly to avoid a funding lapse.
“If the House should pass it, and I hope they do, Leader McConnell and I will figure out the best way to get this done quickly,” Schumer said.
During a press conference prior to the vote, Johnson defended his decision to move the short-term spending bill, saying it would prevent Congress from passing an omnibus spending package in mid-December before the holiday break. Republicans have repeatedly said they oppose such massive packages, which wrap together all 12 government spending bills, often on short notice.
He rejected criticism from fellow GOP lawmakers that he was making a mistake and taking the wrong approach to funding the government.
“We’re not surrendering, we’re fighting. But you have to be wise about choosing the fights,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to fight fights that you can win and we’re going to, and you’re going to see this House majority stand together on our principles.”
Johnson said he was optimistic that Congress would be able to pass the dozen full-year appropriations bills before the new deadlines next year, avoiding the need for another stopgap spending bill.
“Part of the reason I’m confident about this is, I’ve been drinking from Niagara Falls for the last three weeks. This will allow everybody to go home for a couple of days for Thanksgiving,” Johnson said. “Everybody can cool off.”
During that time, Johnson said he would get a group together to “map out that plan to fight for” conservative principles in the final set of 12 spending bills. The current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, 2024.
“I look forward to rolling that out,” he said. “You’ll see much more of that.”
The 32-page short-term spending bill, sometimes called a continuing resolution or CR, would fund part of the federal government through Jan. 19 and the remainder of the annual appropriations bills through Feb. 2.
The short-term funding measure is intended to give Congress and the White House more time to negotiate the dozen full-year spending bills. But there are several pitfalls along the way.
Former GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted from his leadership role after moving the short-term government funding bill in late September that will keep the federal government up and running through Friday.
The decision by eight House Republicans and Democrats to vote to “vacate the chair” plunged the chamber into gridlock for weeks as GOP lawmakers debated who should lead the party.
After nominating three Republicans who couldn’t get the votes on the floor to hold the gavel, the party finally coalesced behind Johnson. But some of the especially conservative members became frustrated this week with his decision to put the stopgap spending bill on the floor.
The short-term spending bill would give the House and Senate until Jan. 19 to work out an agreement on the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD spending bills.
The remaining eight spending bills — Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Interior-Environment, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations — would have funding until Feb. 2.
The House and Senate would need to reach agreement well before those deadlines on the total amount of spending for the current fiscal year that began back on Oct. 1. The leaders of the Appropriations committees would then determine how much of the money goes to each of the dozen bills.
Democrats have said the total spending level should match what Congress and President Joe Biden agreed to in the debt limit law this summer. But some Republicans have pressed for lawmakers to go below that level.
Lawmakers sound off on spending
Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, chair of the Interior-Environment spending panel, said that leaders need to clarify the total spending number, though he expects that will ultimately match the debt limit law.
“I think it will end up being that, but leadership needs to tell us,” Simpson said.
Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., the top Democrat on the Agriculture spending panel, said the total spending level for the final slate of bills that the House and Senate will negotiate in the coming weeks and months needs to adhere to the number in the debt limit law.
“Some of them, particularly the MAGA Republicans, pretty much don’t agree with it, they want to cut much more drastically than is beneficial for the American people,” Bishop said. “The moderate, reasonable minds of that side think that we probably should do something that is reasonable.”
Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the top Democrat on the Financial Services spending panel, said a key challenge to getting full-year bills agreed to is that “Republicans have been unable for eight or nine months to get their act together on fiscal issues.”
“And we’d lost a speaker over that,” Hoyer said. “They were unable to elect speakers for some period of time, and there is still no guarantee that we know what the overall spending levels are.”
Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, ranking member on the Energy-Water subcommittee, said “hopefully the leadership can find a way to do the business of the country.”
“I could say a lot. But we need to do the business of the country and not have any speed bumps along the way,” Kaptur said. “We want to keep the recovery going.”
Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, ranking member on the Military Construction-VA spending subcommittee, said before the vote that she needed to know Republicans would follow the spending levels in the debt limit law and work on a supplemental spending bill for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific region.
“I, as a Democrat, am going to need to make sure that the agreements that were previously made are adhered to in terms of where we start after the CR,” she said.
“And to ensure that we have a full opportunity for an emergency supplemental that will include Ukraine, Taiwan, Israel, and our domestic priorities that are absolutely essential.”
Kentucky Republican Rep. Hal Rogers, chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science spending panel, said during floor debate the short-term bill was necessary to avoid a partial government shutdown and allow the House and Senate time to negotiate.
“While a CR is not my preferred method of conducting business, a government shutdown right before the holiday does our nation no good,” Rogers said. “We need more time to complete our fiscal ‘24 year, to give the House a better negotiating position with the Senate, so we can eventually pass full-year appropriations bills.”
House Republican leaders brought the stopgap spending bill up for a vote under the suspension calendar, which is typically reserved for smaller, non-controversial legislation and requires two-thirds vote for passage.
That maneuver avoided the House needing to adopt a rule for the stopgap spending bill. House Republicans opposed to the bill likely would have blocked approval of that rule, preventing the chamber from debating and voting on the stopgap spending bill.
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