House Republicans have yet to coalesce around their own plan to avert a government shutdown with just 10 days until the deadline, raising the stakes for a new speaker who will have to contend with the internal dynamics of his conference and a Democratically-controlled Senate and White House.
In an hour-long conference meeting Tuesday morning, Speaker Mike Johnson laid out a series of options for his members including a short-term spending bill through January 19, another laddered approach that would fund some government agencies until one date and the option of waiting to see what the Senate sends them. During the meeting, however, members also introduced their own ideas and laid out their own preferences as the speaker listened, sources said.
“There were so many ideas, I lost track of them,” said Rep. Drew Ferguson, a Georgia Republican.
GOP Rep. Brian Babin of Texas told CNN, “There were a lot of different positions, different opinions” expressed during the meeting.
“The man who’s going to have to call the play is going to be our speaker,” he said.
But Babin warned time is running out.
“We absolutely don’t want to be dependent upon the Senate jamming us,” he said.
Sources inside the room told CNN that Johnson made clear to his members that he believed it was in the best interest of the conference to avoid a shutdown, but members said that the speaker was “in listening mode,” and no ultimate decision was made about how to proceed.
“I think there is a realization that since we lost three weeks on the Speaker’s race, we’re going to need a short stopgap. What’s the best way to get that done and make sure we have the votes is what we talked about,” GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida told CNN.
The expectation is the House won’t begin consideration of their short-term spending bill until early next week on the floor with just days until the deadline, but members will need 72 hours to review any bill meaning, leadership will have to make a determination before the end of this week on how they will proceed.
Following the meeting, Johnson promised to reveal the House GOP’s government funding plan “in short order,” but did not commit to a timeline for a floor vote or reveal which direction he’s leaning toward, despite the current government funding on track to expire in just 10 days.
“We had a very, I would call it a refreshing, instructive, family conversation in our House Republican conference meeting an hour ago,” Johnson said at a weekly news conference. “Very deliberate, positive discussions about the many options that are on the table, and we’ll be revealing what our plan is in short order.”
Some House conservatives have made clear they prefer the laddered approach, but veteran appropriators have warned the idea could create too many inflection points in a spending showdown with the Senate that could culminate in chaos rather than getting House Republicans any concrete policy or spending wins.
During the meeting, Rep. Tom Cole, the chairman of the House Rules Committee and an appropriator, made the argument to the conference that House Republicans should pass a clean, short-term spending bill through mid-January and live to fight on the year-long appropriations bills instead.
“Trying to use a government shutdown for leverage never works,” Cole said adding that the real leverage members have will be in April when an automatic, 1% spending cut kicks in if the government is still operating under a short-term spending bill.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a member of the Freedom Caucus who has been more closely aligned with leadership in recent years, also expressed preference for that approach.
“The one that makes the sense is the long-term one, that gets to the 1% cut, and then use that as leverage to deal with individual bills,” Jordan said.
But a key question remains over the debate about how to proceed: Just how much runway are House conservatives going to give the new speaker to hammer out a solution on spending ahead of the deadline. Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision to put a clean, short-term spending bill on the House floor ultimately led to his ouster. House Republicans say this moment is different for Johnson.
“We realize we ate up the time to make something really good happen so he gets the benefit of knowing we are not in a place where we can do everything we might want to do,” Rep. Morgan Griffith, a Virginia Republican, said.
There are still a handful of Republicans that are unlikely to vote for any short-term spending bill, raising the prospects that Johnson will need to get Democratic votes. That also limits his options of what he can do in a short-term spending bill and raising the question of how long the far right wing of the conference will give him the benefit of the doubt.
Hardliner Rep. Bob Good of Virginia – who voted to remove McCarthy as speaker for putting a stopgap bill on the floor – declined to say whether he would back a clean stopgap bill, telling CNN his focus right now is on passing the remainder of their long-term spending bills.
Other Republicans expressed hope that Johnson would enjoy some kind of “honeymoon” period after being elected last month.
“I hope that he gets little bit of a honeymoon, at least to get us through this funding fight,” Rep. David Valadao, a California Republican, said. “We’ll see how long that lasts.”
An additional idea some members have suggested would be to tie aid to Israel to whatever short-term spending bill Congress agrees to. The thinking there is it could be very hard for the Senate to not take up the bill and potentially risk a shutdown over Ukraine aid.
“There are two things that both the House and Senate can agree on: Keeping the government open and funding Israel. It makes sense to tie those together, doesn’t it?” Ferguson said.
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