Republicans inch closer to spending deal, spoiling for a shutdown
By Carl Hulse and Annie Karni
House Republicans inched closer earlier this week to overcoming deep internal divisions and reaching an agreement that would allow them to advance stalled spending legislation, as Speaker Kevin McCarthy bowed to the demands of far-right lawmakers for steep spending cuts that stood little chance of surviving in the Senate.
The emerging deal was unlikely to bring Congress closer to averting a shutdown in 10 days, and it remained unclear whether Republicans could even reach agreement among themselves on a purely symbolic measure that underscored McCarthy’s precarious hold on his job.
McCarthy emerged from a lengthy Wednesday night meeting with Republican lawmakers saying he felt optimistic that he was closer to having the votes to pass a stopgap funding measure to keep federal agencies open through October, despite a handful of hard-line Republicans who have threatened to stand in the way.
Behind closed doors, he proposed a monthlong bill that would temporarily set overall government spending at $1.47 trillion, the funding level in place before the pandemic that hard-right lawmakers have been clamoring for since January; include stringent border restrictions; and create a commission to tackle spending and debt. And he said the House would move individual spending bills that would result in overall expenditures of $1.56 trillion for the coming year, a substantial cut from the level he agreed to with President Joe Biden as part of the debt deal reached in May.
In a sign that the House was shaking off the paralysis that has gripped it for most of the week, McCarthy said he planned to bring a Pentagon spending bill back to the floor on Thursday, two days after a handful of hard-line Republicans blocked a vote on it, dealing him an embarrassing defeat. Republicans emerging from the meeting said two of the rebels, Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado and Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, had changed positions and would now allow a vote on the bill to proceed.
Still, even if the stopgap spending plan were to succeed, it would place the House on a collision course with the Democratic-controlled Senate, where there is bipartisan opposition to the cuts McCarthy has laid out and the immigration restrictions. With government funding slated to lapse after Sept. 30, it left Congress still far from an agreement to avert a shutdown.
Nor was it entirely clear whether McCarthy could muster support for his latest gambit. At the closed door meeting on Wednesday evening, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who has led the resistance to McCarthy, said he knew of at least seven Republicans who would vote against any stopgap funding measure to avert a government shutdown, no matter what the spending level. He would not say who they were.
That assertion received some pushback from other hard-right members.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, a McCarthy ally from North Carolina, said it was too soon to start thinking about turning to Democrats for help and called the impasse part of the “natural give and take” of finding an overall funding figure that Republicans could agree on.
“The first go of it in the House of Representatives is always within your own party,” he said after the meeting. “That’s what the speaker is trying to do, is build consensus among Republicans.”
The speaker also said he was not ready to give up and seek help from Democrats, an option likely to set off an immediate effort by right-wing lawmakers to remove him from the speakership.
“Anytime we have an obstacle, let’s not quit,” McCarthy told reporters earlier Wednesday as he was pressed on how he intended to overcome the resistance from the far right. “Sometimes it takes longer than others. There were a lot of Republicans who said they would never vote for me as speaker either,” he said, referring to his January fight for the speaker’s gavel that took 15 House votes to decide.
But it was that battle that was coming back to haunt McCarthy, who was still working to satisfy the same band of hard-right rebels who had demanded concessions from him — including promises to rein in federal spending — in exchange for their votes to make him speaker.
With the outlook uncertain, McCarthy intended to keep House members in town and voting at least through Saturday, lawmakers said, as he and his backers groped for a way out of the impasse.
“The speaker‘s been talking to a lot of different people and he’s pretty good at pulling rabbits out of hats,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chair of the Rules Committee. “My guess is we’ll see another rabbit.”
One top ally of the hard-liners, Russell T. Vought, the president of the Center for Renewing America, said McCarthy either needed to embrace their position on lower spending and their push to challenge the Biden administration more aggressively, or face a threat to his job.
“We’re going to have a shutdown,” Vought said. “I think that’s a fundamental reality.” He added, “I don’t think his speakership will continue if he doesn’t move to unite his conference.”