Johnson Scrambles for Short-Term Funding Deal With Just Days to Go Before Government Shutdown

One key House appropriator calls the potential plans ‘workable’ while another says they do not make any sense.

AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Speaker Johnson at the Capitol, October 26, 2023. AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Speaker Johnson, in an attempt to satisfy his GOP colleagues and avoid the fate of his predecessor, is throwing everything at the wall in working to avoid a government shutdown. With just nine days to go before another shutdown, the speaker has made it clear that he is working on a short-term resolution as the House pushes its remaining spending bills. House conservatives, though, may once again revolt over the plan. 

The favored proposal of House conservatives is a “laddered” continuing resolution, meaning a short-term budget deal that extends the life of federal agencies in a staggered way in order to give the House more time to pass its appropriations bills. It would also allow Mr. Johnson to avoid conservative objections to blanket continuing resolutions, which mean the entire federal government has its funding extended to a set date. 

One House Freedom Caucus member who supports such a plan, Congressman Byron Donalds, tells the Sun that the laddered approach is probably the “favorite” choice among Republican members, though he acknowledges that the plan is unprecedented and has confused some colleagues. “It’s not a matter of resistance” to the proposal, Mr. Donalds says, “but a matter of clarity” about how it would work. 

The powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee, who is charged with moving such a spending bill to the floor, Congressman Tom Cole, tells the Sun that even he does not fully understand the scope and specifics of a laddered proposal. 

“I’m not exactly sure what it is,” Mr. Cole says. “It’s not just a question of selling it here, you’ve got to sell it to the Senate. A lot of them are set in their ways and not sure what it means either. It wasn’t an idea that was generated over there, so for them being more perplexed by it, you can understand why.”

Mr. Johnson first floated the laddered idea at a press conference last week. He admitted that his conference is not likely to pass its remaining five appropriations bills by the November 17 deadline. “There’s a growing recognition that we’re going to need another [short-term] funding measure,” Mr. Johnson said. “I think we can build consensus around it, but I think there is a recognition that we have to complete the job, and we have run out the clock on this.”

So far, the House has passed only seven of its 12 appropriations bills. On Tuesday, Mr. Johnson pulled the transportation-housing bill for the second time in as many weeks because of GOP objections that the spending is too high and objections from East Coast House members who do not like the cuts to Amtrak. 

The prospect of passing a clean CR through the end of the year and into mid-January may be dead on arrival within the GOP conference, and Mr. Johnson may have to rely on support from the House Democratic leader, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. 

It would be the same kind of deal that led to the removal of Speaker McCarthy in October. Just hours before the last government shutdown deadline, on September 30, Mr. McCarthy put a clean continuing resolution on the floor and saw 90 of his Republican colleagues vote against it. On the Democratic side, all but one voted for the measure. 

Congressman Ralph Norman tells the Sun that if Mr. Johnson did put a clean continuing resolution on the floor, he personally would not vote for it, but he also would not blame Mr. Johnson if he took such a step. “I prefer the ladder plan and I don’t like CRs, but we’re what — nine days out?” Mr. Norman said. “What used to happen is leadership would tell us what they were going to do and line people up in support. … He’s doing it the right way.”

The New York Sun

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