Different Speaker, same problem: Republicans remain divided over government funding

House Republicans are at odds over how to prevent a government shutdown that would begin in little more than a week, raising questions over whether the conference will be able to rally behind its new Speaker on an issue that has long divided it.

Lawmakers emerging from a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday said that a number of different proposals were under consideration, several of which appear to be non-starters with the Senate. But they are not yet coalescing around any proposal ahead of the Nov. 17 deadline. 

One idea is a two-step “ladder” continuing resolution (CR) that would fund part of the government until Dec. 7 and the rest until January, to encourage passage of regular appropriations bills. Another idea is to pass a simpler stopgap until January that includes conservative policies and stipulations. 

Some lawmakers are proposing longer timelines — such as a two-step approach until January or February, in order to avoid a deadline coming just before the holidays.

“There continue to be a pretty wide range of views about what we should do,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.).

Republicans have signaled that new Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) will get more leeway on a stopgap than former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who was ousted in part over objections to how he handled the funding of the federal government.

“This Speaker hasn’t had, you know, eight months or whatever it is to figure it out,” said Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), who was one of eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy. “I do think that there’s an appetite in leadership now to think outside the box and be unconventional.”

But the divisions also suggest Johnson, just like McCarthy, could have trouble unifying 217 Republicans around one plan, and may need Democratic votes to prevent a shutdown. 

The Speaker nonetheless projected optimism Tuesday, saying that the GOP conference had “refreshing, constructive family conversation” in the morning meeting about “many options that are on the table.”

“I’m not going to show you all the cards right now,” Johnson said. 

Johnson did, though, defend the two-tiered “ladder” approach.

“There’s nothing magical or mysterious about it,” Johnson said. “It would just be effectively, two phases. You would do one part of the subset of the bills by the December date, and the rest of it by the January date.”

A floor vote on any stopgap plan is not expected until next week, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) said Monday evening. That in part is due to the House GOP’s rule to allow 72 hours from release of bill text before a final vote.

Hard-line conservatives, who have long warned about the prospect of getting stuck with a package from the Senate just before the holidays, are expressing support for the multi-deadline idea.

But veteran House GOP appropriators are balking at the concept, which many had not heard of before this week.

“I don’t think it’s realistic,” said Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) a House Appropriations subcommittee chair, adding that the Senate would not accept such a plan.

“Congress has a hard time walking and chewing gum,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), another House Appropriations subcommittee chair. “How are we going to juggle multiple deadlines and different approaches?”

Crane, who favors the ladder approach, said it seems like the conference was split around 50-50 on the idea. 

The struggle to unify the slim House GOP majority around a strategy is in many ways a repeat of the scenario it faced in September. 

Leaders then had attempted to get Republican support for a stopgap that would have cut federal funding for its duration and included border and immigration policy changes, with the intention of attempting to negotiate concessions from the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House.

Those plans failed after a small number of Republicans refused to support any kind of continuing resolution, insisting on only passing 12 regular appropriations bills. McCarthy then opted to pass a clean stopgap with the help of Democrats — which prompted eight Republicans to join with Democrats to oust him from the Speakership, paralyzing the House for weeks until Republicans settled on a replacement.

One key difference this time, though, is that several of the hard-line Republicans who opposed any kind of stopgap in August are now expressing openness to the idea.

In addition to Crane, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said he could “possibly” support a CR because “clearly we’re in an emergency situation.” And Rep. Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.) signaled he could support a stopgap, too — as long as it has other conditions.

“There’s got to be something that takes you beyond Christmas, and there has to be something that you can take back home — like border security, like debt commission — that you can say, ‘Hey, we’re serious about fixing the problems of America,’” Ogles said.

But Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chair of the House Rules Committee, said he would prefer a “clean” CR without conditions.

“I’ve got three principles here: keep it simple, stupid; don’t take hostages you won’t shoot; and regular order is your friend,” Cole said.

The limited time frame provides little time for negotiation with the Senate, or even for the GOP to coalesce around an option that could appease the hard-liners at all.

“When we get within 48 hours, the likelihood of a clean CR becomes more and more likely,” Womack said.

Still, some Republicans appear much more optimistic about finding consensus and a shutdown solution under Johnson’s Speakership than McCarthy’s.

“If Mike Johnson tells me it’s going to snow in August, I make it down to Mayo’s in Knoxville and buy me a sled,” said Burchett, referencing his friend’s local supply store.

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