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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

McCarthy’s plan to avoid a shutdown hits stiff GOP opposition

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) walks with his staff at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Sept. 14, 2023.

By Carl Husle

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s bid to gain the upper hand in a battle over federal spending hit stiff opposition from within his own ranks earlier this week, leaving him with dwindling options and little time to find his way out of a funding impasse that could lead to a government shutdown in less than two weeks.

Roughly a dozen Republicans made it clear that they were staunchly opposed to the proposal unveiled Sunday, which combines a stopgap spending measure with steep funding cuts and new border controls, indicating they could not be induced to change their votes through leadership pressure. The measure had little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, but McCarthy, who has made it clear he is desperate to avoid a politically damaging shutdown, has promoted it as a way to pressure the other chamber to come his way on spending.

Yet the internal resistance made it clear he is well short of the votes to pass it.

“The Republican House is failing the American people again and pursuing a path of gamesmanship and circus,” Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., said in a statement. “Neither Republicans nor Democrats have the backbone to challenge the corrupt swamp that is bankrupting our children and grandchildren. It is a shame that our weak speaker cannot even commit to having a commission to discuss our looming fiscal catastrophe.”

“This town is addicted to spending other people’s money,” Rep. Eli Crane, R-Ariz., said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Enough is enough.”

With McCarthy’s slim majority, opposition from a dozen Republicans would make it impossible for him to advance the bill, as Democrats are uniformly opposed and so far are in no hurry to bail out the speaker. As he arrived at the Capitol on Monday, McCarthy suggested that lawmakers might change their minds once they were able to fully digest the legislation, but he conceded he faced a tough sell.

“It’s a good thing I love a challenge,” McCarthy said. “Every day is going to be a challenge. I’ve got a long week.”

The proposal hammered out over the weekend would extend federal funding through October, allowing time for the House and Senate to make more progress on their stalled yearlong spending bills. It would cut the budgets of most federal agencies for that period by about 8% while exempting the military, veterans programs and disaster relief. It would also restore some stringent Trump-era immigration policies. It does not contain funding for continued military assistance to Ukraine — money that the White House and both parties in the Senate have sought.

Given the cuts, the immigration provisions opposed by Democrats and the lack of assistance for Ukraine, the stopgap proposal has no chance of passing as is in the Senate. McCarthy was well aware of that but was hoping House passage would be a show of strength that would force a response from the Senate and potentially shift responsibility for a shutdown across the rotunda.

It was a strategy that worked for McCarthy in the debt limit showdown earlier this year, when he defied expectations and was able to muscle through the House a debt limit increase tied to spending cuts, forcing President Joe Biden to open negotiations with him that led to an eventual agreement. But far-right House conservatives, who only reluctantly cast that first vote to raise the debt limit, were unhappy with the deal McCarthy ultimately cut — and they do not seem inclined to give him that backing in the current spending fight.

While some conservatives were digging in against the plan, the prospect of a shutdown was alarming other Republicans, including those from swing districts carried by Biden in 2020 who could feel the political backlash from a government closure.

“They don’t know how to take yes for an answer,” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., said in a post on X of the Republican critics of the legislative proposal known as a continuing resolution, or CR. “They don’t know how to define a win. They don’t know how to work as a team. I will NOT support a government shutdown. If they refuse to pass a CR, I will without them.”

McCarthy has said repeatedly that he does not want the government to shut down and that he could try and pass a stopgap bill with a combination of Republican votes like Lawler’s and Democratic ones, as he did with the final vote on the debt limit agreement. But some Republicans on the right have said such a move would lead to a challenge to his job.

The new proposal did have some conservative backing. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a prominent member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, embraced it and said that House approval would then leave Senate Democrats responsible for the shutdown if they rejected it. Roy, an architect of the immigration restrictions that were adopted by the House earlier this year, was among those who had said he would not support any temporary spending if it did not fortify the border.

“A 30 day extension by the GOP to force an 8% cut to the Department of Justice & rest of federal bureaucracy is a cut to its weaponization while passing border security, & whacking DOD wokeness,” Roy said on X as he tried to rally conservatives behind the proposal.

In addition to the temporary funding bill, McCarthy also was hoping to revive a Pentagon spending measure that stalled last week when right-wing Republicans said they would not allow it to be put on the floor. McCarthy said Sunday that he intended to force a vote on that legislation and see if conservatives relented under the pressure of being accused of abandoning the military.

The House was not alone in facing a funding impasse. After weeks of bipartisan progress, the Senate ran into a roadblock Thursday when Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., objected to a plan to consider three different spending bills together.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Monday that the Senate would vote later this week to suspend its rules and overcome Johnson’s objection so the spending package could move forward, a maneuver that would require 67 votes.

An initial test vote would come Wednesday. Some GOP senators seemed open to the idea, but Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, indicated they would likely discuss the issue at a private party meeting on Tuesday.

Schumer also made it clear that the proposal from House Republicans, which he called an “insult” to Ukraine, stood no chance in the Senate.

“Last night’s proposal in the House can be boiled down to two words: slapdash, reckless,” Schumer said. “Slapdash because it is not a serious proposal for avoiding a shutdown, and reckless because if passed it would cause immense harm to so many priorities that help the American people.”

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