Johnson Facing the Same Problems as McCarthy Following Conservative Revolt Over Spending Bill

House conservatives sink a key funding bill that Mr. Johnson had hoped to get done before Thanksgiving.

AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Speaker Johnson at the Capitol, November 14, 2023. AP/J. Scott Applewhite

After postponing a shutdown with help from across the aisle, it is increasingly clear that Speaker Johnson is going to face the same problems that his predecessor faced. With five spending bills languishing in the House due to resistance from the right flank of the GOP, the newly minted speaker is learning quickly that this group of legislators may be ungovernable. 

On Wednesday, the House voted 225 – 198 against moving ahead to consider the commerce, justice, and science appropriations bill — one of the five remaining spending packages the House has been unable to approve. Along with all Democrats, 19 Republicans voted to not begin debate. 

Mr. Johnson and those committee leaders tasked with shepherding this bill through the floor had hoped they could at least finish one of the bills before Thanksgiving. An appropriations subcommittee chairman, Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, previously said that Mr. Johnson might even be able to get two done before the break. 

Members of the House Freedom Caucus will continue to irk Mr. Johnson for the foreseeable future, however. “We’ve had enough,” the chairman of the caucus, Congressman Scott Perry, said after he helped stop the appropriations bill from moving forward. “We’re sending a shot across the bow. We do this in good faith. We want to see these bills move. We want to see good, righteous policy, but we’re not going to be part of the failure theater anymore.”

Congressman Chip Roy, who did not vote to remove Speaker McCarthy after he worked with Democrats to avert a shutdown by passing a short-term budget extension in September, was enraged by Mr. Johnson’s decision to do so on Tuesday night. 

“No more excuses from my colleagues on this side of the aisle,” he said on the House floor Wednesday. “When are we going to do what we said we would do? When are we going to stand athwart and stop the reckless spending that is bankrupting a country?”

Much ink has been spilled about Mr. Johnson’s more conservative record compared with his immediate predecessor. He has been praised by everyone from Congressman Matt Gaetz to the most moderate members like Congressman Don Bacon. 

Yet he has not been able to make any progress on the individual spending bills that proved to be the undoing of Mr. McCarthy’s speakership, and that looks unlikely to change in January when the government is set to partially shut down. 

Following the Tuesday night vote to extend funding for the government through next year, Mr. Bacon told the Sun that Republican leadership is making the mistake of placating the “20 or so” members of the right flank who consistently vote no on these bills. 

Mr. Bacon, whose district voted for President Biden in 2020 and who is seen as one of the most moderate House members, says the problem is not going to get better with these conservative members. 

“What they’ve done is they have gone too far in trying to please 20 people and maybe if they would just be a little more mainline rather than trying to go for those 20 and then you can’t get a single Democrat vote,” Mr. Bacon said. “We’re the dog chasing its own tail and it sinks the whole process.”

“I don’t think another appropriations bill is going to pass,” he added, with the possible exception of a transportation spending bill. “I think they’re just going to go into a conference” with the Senate.

The demands made by some of the House GOP’s more conservative members are unlikely to pass muster with moderates, let alone the Senate or the White House. Mr. Perry and Mr. Gaetz want to scuttle the planned construction of a new headquarters for the FBI. 

Congressman Andrew Clyde said he wants to pass a law banning prosecutors from taking presidential candidates to trial. 

Congresswoman Anna Paulina Luna made it clear that this is not personal with Mr. Johnson, but his priorities are wrong. “We’re going to be holding them accountable to include the Speaker,” she said after the vote. 

“We like him a lot,” she added. “He’s a nice guy. But we’re going to make sure that he follows through on what he said he was going to do.”

The New York Sun

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