Speaker Mike Johnson enters big government shutdown test days ahead of deadline

Nov 13, 2023, 5:08 PM

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s two-step plan to keep the government open beyond November 17 will fa...

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s two-step plan to keep the government open beyond November 17 will face a major hurdle on the House floor this week. Johnson is seen here at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 2. (Michael Brochstein, Sipa USA/AP)

(Michael Brochstein, Sipa USA/AP)

 (CNN) — House Speaker Mike Johnson’s two-step plan to keep the government open beyond Nov. 17 will face a major hurdle on the House floor this week, a critical moment for the new speaker who is facing his first major legislative test with just four days to avert a government shutdown.

Johnson told his leadership team on Monday night that he sees “a path” to get his government funding plan passed and signed into law, expressing confidence it will succeed despite some Republicans being opposed to the bill and the procedural vote, according to a member in attendance. He also told lawmakers he believes all four congressional leaders — House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — are on board with his proposal, the member said.

Disagreement from within the GOP

However, Johnson is still facing a rebellion from his right wing as conservatives quickly criticized his plan on social media and vowed to vote against it, leaving him in a position where he will likely need Democratic votes to pass the bill before the Friday deadline.

“The current short-term funding proposal includes a 1-year extension of the Farm Bill (no reform), status quo policies, and status quo funding levels. Disappointing is as polite as I can muster. I will be voting NO,” said Rep. Warren Davidson, a Republican from Ohio. “Hopefully, the consensus will result in a more reasonable bill.”

Other conservatives also blasted the bill, including Rep. Chip Roy, an influential member of the House Freedom Caucus.

“My opposition to the clean CR just announced by the Speaker to the House GOP cannot be overstated. Funding Pelosi level spending and policies for 75 days – for future ‘promises,’” he tweeted Saturday.

Democrats won’t say what they will do

Complicating things for Johnson, Democrats remain noncommittal on whether they will back his idea, leaving him in a position where his first major piece of legislation may not even be able to get out of the House at all.

Many dismissed the two-step plan last week as messy and unnecessary. But, multiple members told CNN that lawmakers remain open minded, given the fact the plan did not include steep spending cuts, a red line.

Johnson’s spending plan would fund government agencies through spending bills for the military, Veterans Affairs, transportation, housing and urban development and energy and water through mid-January. Then, funding for the remaining government agencies would expire on a second date on February 2.

It’s a plan that many Democrats have blasted as a gimmick, but have also acknowledged can’t be dismissed outright given that time is limited and control of Congress is divided.

“We are going to proceed in the Senate on a clean CR, without gimmicks, without ladders,” Sen. Chris Murphy said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It does worry me that the House process requires you to come back and deal with half the budget on one date, and half the budget on another date. That sounds to me a little bit of a recipe for failure. But I’m willing to listen to the case that they’re making, I would much rather do what the Senate is doing, just pass a (continuing resolution) that keeps the entire government open to the same date.”

On the sidelines

Sources told CNN that Democrats remain on the sidelines for now as they wait to see how Johnson will manage his own conference.

Schumer signaled his openness to Johnson’s bill on Monday, saying that Johnson’s plan is “moving in our direction” by not including spending cuts and pushing the defense spending bill to the second, later deadline in February.

“The speaker’s proposal is far from perfect, but the most important thing is that it refrains from making steep cuts while also extending funding for defense in the second tranche of bills in February, not the first in January,” he added.

One of the first major tests for Johnson will be whether he can even pass a procedural vote for the spending bill known as the rule. Typically, it’s up to the majority party to pass it, but conservatives – under former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s tenure – often voted down GOP rules to solidify their political point.

It’s not clear if they will give Johnson more room to maneuver or whether their opposition to the rule would force Johnson to try and bring the bill under a suspension of the rules, which would require a two-thirds majority to pass.

McCarthy passed the last short-term spending bill under a suspension of the rules, a decision that ultimately cost him his job.

During a private call Saturday, Johnson tried to make the case to his members that the conference had lost critical time during a three-week speaker’s race to pass individual spending bills and that a short-term spending bill in two parts would give Republicans maximum leverage in negotiations over individual, year-long spending bills next year.

Another course of action

But Johnson also made clear to members that if Democrats in the Senate rejected his plan, his next course of action would be a year-long spending bill with cuts to non-defense programs, something that Democrats would also never back.

Over the course of the last week, House Republicans have struggled just like they did under McCarthy to unify on spending. Divisions over two, year-long spending bills to fund transportation and housing and then financial services and general government had to be pulled last week over GOP infighting. That, some Democrats have argued, is a sign that Republicans don’t have the leverage in this fight.

“By adopting the Freedom Caucus’s extreme ‘laddered CR’ approach, Speaker Johnson is setting up a system that will double the number of shutdown showdowns,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement Sunday.

“As last week made clear when they wasted time debating two spending bills that were so appalling that they had to remove them from the floor to avoid failing on final passage, House Republicans cannot enact their radical agenda,” DeLauro said.

“We are nowhere closer to a full-year funding agreement than we were at the end of September. Congress must avoid a shutdown and pass a CR that facilitates enacting full-year spending bills and emergency assistance as soon as possible.”

While congressional Democrats keep their powder dry for the time being, the White House actively lambasted Johnson’s proposal over the weekend, calling it “unserious.”

“Very much untested”

On Monday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Republicans’ proposal for a two-step CR “very much untested,” but told reporters the administration remained “in close contact with Democrats in both the House and the Senate” over ongoing negotiations.

But, pressed on if Biden would veto the proposal, Jean-Pierre wouldn’t say, instead referring reporters to comments from President Joe Biden earlier Monday that he planned to “wait and see what they come up with,” in Congress before deciding.

The White House has yet to issue a statement of administration policy, a document that states whether President Joe Biden would sign or veto a piece of legislation should it pass both chambers and arrive on his desk, on the bill. It remains unclear at this time if he would sign this two-pronged bill, despite the White House’s public opposition.

The two-step continuing resolution does not include the funding for Israel or Ukraine that the White House says is urgently needed.

CNN’s Manu Raju, Donald Judd and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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Speaker Mike Johnson enters big government shutdown test days ahead of deadline