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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Right-wing House Republicans derail Pentagon GOP bill, rebuking McCarthy

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to the press after departing the House Chamber on Capitol Hill, Washington, on Sept. 19, 2023. McCarthy and his fellow Republican leaders were hoping for a successful vote on the Pentagon measure.

By Carl Hulse

Deep Republican divisions erupted onto the House floor earlier this week as a handful of far-right conservatives blocked a Pentagon spending bill from coming up for debate, dealing an embarrassing setback to Speaker Kevin McCarthy as he struggled to round up votes to prevent a government shutdown in less than two weeks.

In a development rarely seen in the House, five Republicans broke with their own party and refused to allow the usually broadly bipartisan military funding measure to be considered, registering their objections to McCarthy’s strategy in an escalating fight over federal spending. It left the chamber paralyzed for the moment, with little time before a Sept. 30 deadline to avert a government closure.

The stunning setback on Tuesday sent McCarthy and his lieutenants scrambling for a way forward both on their yearlong spending bills and a temporary funding bill that had already run into a buzz saw of opposition from the far right as the speaker faced fresh threats of an ouster from detractors in his own party. Even if it could make it through the House, the temporary spending measure stood little chance in the Democratic-led Senate, where its combination of deep spending cuts and stringent border policies was seen as a nonstarter.

But the House’s inability to move on a stopgap plan further delayed any negotiations on Capitol Hill toward a bipartisan spending compromise. With none of the 12 annual spending bills passed, such a temporary bill will be needed to keep the government funded after the end of next week.

The situation presented McCarthy with two extremely perilous options: continuing to haggle with a small group of his members who seem bent on shutting down the government, or steering around their obstruction by teaming with Democrats to keep funding flowing, and face a promised bid by right-wing lawmakers to force him out of the speakership.

The GOP infighting was leading Republicans to turn on one another both privately and publicly, as lawmakers from competitive districts won by President Joe Biden worried about the political consequences of a shutdown and fumed at the tactics of the far right, who are agitating for steeper spending cuts than their leaders have put forward.

McCarthy and his fellow Republican leaders had hoped for a successful vote on the Pentagon measure to show they were getting their spending plans on track after weeks of disarray. But the five defectors foiled that effort as they held out against the leadership, even as they faced arm-twisting on the floor to persuade them to change their votes.

The final vote was 214-212 against the rule to allow the military spending measure to proceed.

All Democrats also voted against it, given their opposition to the funding levels in the bill and numerous other provisions added by Republicans who say they need to eliminate a “woke” mentality from the military.

South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, one of the five Republicans who voted against the rule, said he was opposing all GOP spending initiatives until he received a commitment from McCarthy that the House would return federal spending to pre-pandemic levels without any budgetary gimmicks.

“I want to have a real number,” he said. “I don’t want a smoke-and-mirrors number.”

The other four Republicans balking at the rule were Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Ken Buck of Colorado and Matt Rosendale of Montana. All have said that the Republican leaders are not serious enough about bringing federal spending under control.

The outcome left Republican military backers in the House fuming.

“Our inability to bring this package to a floor vote because of these five individuals who decided to put their personal agendas ahead of the basic requirements of our troops is extremely upsetting to us,” Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., a former Navy pilot, said following the vote.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said the outcome showed that his party should begin to consider working with Democrats to find a solution to the spending impasse given the looming Sept. 30 deadline and deep resistance from the right. He called the holdouts the “dysfunction caucus.”

“We should do what James Madison designed in the first place: work across the aisle and find a bipartisan solution,” he said. “That’s where we are left.”

Following the defeat, McCarthy said he was flummoxed by the thinking of Republicans who opposed the procedural step.

“They are voting against even bringing the bill up to have a discussion about it,” he told reporters. “The idea that you voted against the rule to even bring it up doesn’t make sense to me.”

The clash over the Pentagon measure came after more than a dozen Republicans had registered their strong opposition to a temporary funding proposal, leaving it well short of the necessary support in a vote McCarthy still hoped to hold Thursday. Republicans met privately Tuesday morning to try to sort out their disagreements in what the speaker described as a “productive” session.

McCarthy and other Republicans conceded that the legislation was going to need revisions to have a chance of passing and said the focus was on cutting funding for all federal agencies, except the military and veterans programs, deeper than the 8% reduction originally proposed.

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