Speaker Johnson defends spending deal

Speaker Mike Johnson is fighting to defend the spending deal he struck with Democrats this week against attacks from the right flank, acknowledging that it’s not the conservative ideal but saying it represents “the best” Republicans can muster.

“This is not what we all want, it’s not the best deal that we could get if we were in charge of both chambers and the White House. But it’s the best deal that we could broker under the circumstances,” Johnson told reporters Tuesday in the Capitol after a closed-door meeting of Republican leaders in the Speaker’s office. 

Since the agreement was announced, Johnson has come under intense criticism from conservatives in his own conference, who are hammering the deal for not cutting government spending sharply enough while excluding new border security measures.

The internal criticism  has highlighted the dilemma facing Johnson, who is fighting to keep the government open — an effort that will require compromise with Democrats — without sparking a revolt from his restive right flank, which ousted his predecessor, former Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), for his willingness to compromise with Democrats on spending bills.

Returning to Washington on Tuesday after the long holiday break, Johnson said his hands were tied by an earlier budget deal endorsed by McCarthy, who resigned from Congress last month after being booted from the Speakership. 

“I inherited this situation,” Johnson said in an interview with Fox Business Network minutes before speaking with reporters.

Johnson pointed to the slim majority that Republicans have in the House — and the reality that they only control one chamber in the legislative branch.

“This is a step forward. It’s not what we want, it’s not everything we want, but remember, we have a one to two vote margin in just one chamber of the legislative branch. I mean, this is the best we could do right now,” he said.

House Republicans are currently working with a two-vote majority: The chamber ousted former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) in December, McCarthy resigned from office on New Year’s Eve and Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) is sidelined from Washington until next month as he undergoes a stem cell transplant as part of his cancer treatment.

Announced Sunday, the bipartisan spending agreement keeps the spending levels adopted last summer as part of a debt ceiling deal — a stipulation of Democrats — while featuring certain spending cuts favored by Republicans, including $10 billion to the IRS mandatory funding and a $6.1 billion clawback of unspent COVID-19 funds.

The leaders of both parties, in both chambers, have endorsed the contours of the package, as has the White House. But House conservatives are blasting the framework for not doing enough to cut spending.

“It’s even worse than we thought,” the House Freedom Caucus wrote Sunday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Don’t believe the spin… This is total failure.”

A failure of policymakers to act would result in a partial shutdown of the government after Jan. 19 — a short window given the vast number of details that still need ironing out by appropriators.

The time crunch is prompting leaders in the Senate to begin discussions about a short-term stopgap bill to prevent a lapse in funding. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said Congress will “obviously” have to pass a continuing resolution to keep the lights on in Washington.

Johnson said Tuesday that, with the top-line spending levels secured, Republicans will shift their attention to the fight to include a number of their favored policy changes, known as riders. 

“The pedal’s to the metal. We have the top-line agreement. This allows us to fight for our policy priorities, for our policy riders now. And our appropriators are resolute on doing that,” he said.

That strategy is certain to set up a fierce clash with Democrats, who are already vowing to oppose any spending package that includes controversial policy riders on issues such as abortion, immigration and “de-woking” federal agencies. 

“Democrats will not accept any Republican poison pill policy changes,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said after the deal was announced. 

A top House conservative, meanwhile, is pessimistic about the conference’s odds of securing any substantive wins in the process.

“Past history would not indicate that we are, that we are willing to fight for good policy or reduce spending,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters after huddling with Johnson. 

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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