Speaker Mike Johnson’s two-step stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown is set to be voted by the House on Nov. 14 under a process that requires Democrat support to pass.
The bill will be voted on the floor under a suspension of rules, according to a Monday night scheduling notice from Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), meaning that it will require a two-thirds majority to pass.
The development came after conservatives opposed to the measure threatened to torpedo the bill in a procedural vote on Nov. 13.
Mr. Johnson has portrayed the measure as part of his commitment to reforming the way spending decisions are made in Congress. Whether colleagues go along with the idea will be an early signal of the new speaker's ability to get things done with a slim and often contentious House majority.
A Novel ApproachThis stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), is the latest in a series of fumbling attempts by Congress to keep the government open while setting spending levels for the current fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1.
As the previous fiscal year came to a close on Sept. 30, none of the 12 spending bills were signed into law. In the final moments before midnight, then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) presented a 45-day stop-gap funding bill, which was passed with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
That ultimately cost Mr. McCarthy his job as eight Republicans organized his ouster for what they saw as a collaboration with Democrats and an extension of what many warn is the Biden administration’s unsustainable spending plan.
When Mr. Johnson was elected speaker on Oct. 24, he intended to pass a second, longer-term stop-gap funding bill that would cover government spending into the new year. He switched to the two-step approach on Nov. 2, dubbing it a "laddered" CR.
“The bottom line is that we need more time to complete our work,” Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said when presenting the bill to the House Rules Committee on Nov. 13.
“The two-step plan that Speaker Johnson has laid out prevents a harmful government shutdown. It gives us more time to finish our work for fiscal year 2024 and ensures that we're not jammed with an omnibus [spending bill] just days before Christmas,” Mr. Aderholt added.
The bill does not include funding for Israel or Ukraine, Mr. Aderholt said, so those items will be considered separately. Republicans have been insistent on separating spending bills for different purposes so that each will be considered on its own merits.
Positive SignsDemocratic leaders indicated some openness to the laddered CR if not outright support.
“For now, I am pleased that Speaker Johnson seems to be moving in our direction by advancing a CR that doesn’t include the highly partisan cuts that Democrats have warned against,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
“The Speaker’s proposal is far from perfect, but the most important thing is that it refrains from making steep cuts,” Mr. Schumer added, perhaps indicating that Democrats see the two-month extension of 2023 spending, which was set by House Democrats, as a win.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) also indicated that the laddered CR might be acceptable in some form in a Nov. 13 letter to House Democrats.
“At this time, we are carefully evaluating the proposal set forth by Republican leadership and discussing it with Members,” he wrote.
Mr. Jeffries had previously said the idea was an “extreme right-wing policy joyride” and a “nonstarter.”
President Joe Biden refused to rule out the idea in comments to reporters on Nov. 13.
“I’m not going to make a judgment on what I’d veto and what I’d sign. Let’s see what they come up with,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has endorsed the plan.
Bipartisan CriticismOther Democrats and Republicans said they oppose the plan.
“This CR creates a bizarre, bifurcated approach, setting up two separate CR deadlines that will only make a future shutdown more likely,” Ranking Member Jerry McGovern (D-Mass.) said. Commenting on the GOP’s struggle to pass spending bills even after ousting the previous speaker, Mr. McGovern said, “Same circus, new ringmaster.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) told the committee that the absence of increased funding for WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) would cause hardship for families. “If we do nothing to support the WIC program, this is going to mean that young families are going to be turned away from receiving vital nutritional assistance,” she said.
The CR would continue current WIC funding levels. However, if WIC funding is later cut when the full-year appropriations bills are passed, those cuts would be retroactive. In that case, funding for the remainder of the year would be greatly reduced. Ms. DeLauro fears that some states might start cutting benefits in anticipation of any eventual cuts.
In all, 91 Republicans in the House and eight in the Senate voted against the initial 45-day CR, which passed on Sept. 30. Some have renewed their objections on this latest stop-gap funding bill.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) opposes the bill because it would continue an unacceptable level of spending for at least two more months.
“We're going to continue to perpetuate spending ... which is $131 billion higher than the fiscal year 22 level. And we're going to do that with the policies embedded in it that were adopted at the time while we have a $2 trillion deficit,” Mr. Roy said.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the House Freedom Caucus, also said he would not support the CR.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the CR “an unserious proposal that has been panned by members of both parties” in a Nov. 11 statement.
Senators also voiced mixed reactions. Some, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have resisted making a judgment until the House finishes its work on the CR.
Others, including Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), favored completing the regular spending bills by year’s end.
“Just get it done in December,” Mr. Tester (D-Mont.) told The Epoch Times on Nov. 13. “If we did this in December, this whole debate would go away.”