July 20, 2024

Congressional leaders signal short-term funding bill needed to avert shutdown

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., did not rule out another short-term funding bill to avert a shutdown later this month, a shift from December when he vowed there would be no more stopgap bills in 2024.

Johnson’s remarks come as other House and Senate leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, have conceded this week that Congress will not be able to pass all of their appropriations bills before twin funding deadlines on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2, and will have no choice but to pass yet another short-term bill — known as a continuing resolution or CR — to avert a shutdown.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that “obviously we’re going to have to pass a CR.” And House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar of California told reporters Wednesday that Congress will “need more time” to pass its 12 appropriations bills given that appropriators still do not have their topline numbers for each bill, known as 302(b)s. 

After meeting with House Republicans behind closed doors, Johnson would not directly answer whether he’d be willing to let the government shut down on Jan. 19, saying only that his bipartisan topline spending deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., puts Congress on a path to get bipartisan negotiators in a room to determine the 302(b)s.

“I would say the pedal is to the metal right now,” Johnson said. “And I’m very hopeful and optimistic that we can meet the deadlines.”

But pressed if he 100% would rule out the need for a short-term deal to avert a shutdown, Johnson replied: “I’m not ruling out anything, committing to anything, other than getting these appropriations done, and I think we can.”

Before he became speaker, Johnson consistently had voted against CRs. And while he endorsed the so-called laddered CR in November that set a pair of funding deadlines on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2, Johnson declared on Fox News at the time that these CRs would be his last.

“I hate CRs,” he said during a Fox appearance on Nov. 14. “We shouldn’t do this, and we’re not going to do it again next year.” 

Johnson is reluctant to publicly endorse another short-term deal given that hard-right conservatives in his conference despise them and are furious over the $1.59 trillion spending deal for fiscal year 2024 he cut with Democrats over the holidays.

“We should be cutting spending. This is a bad deal,” Freedom Caucus Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., said. “I just think honestly there’s too many influences in his staff and in the Senate that are influencing the speaker to make these decisions, and I think they’re bad. I think they’re the wrong decision.”

Facing threats from some of the same far-right forces who ousted his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, Johnson defended his bipartisan deal and insisted he shared conservative priorities like getting spending under control.

“Look, leadership is tough; you take a lot of criticism. But remember, I am a hard-line conservative. That’s what they used to call me. I come from that camp …” Johnson told reporters. “This to me, this deal, this agreement is a down payment on restoring us to fiscal sanity in this country.”

The deal would rescind $6.1 billion in unused Covid funds and accelerate $10 billion in cuts to IRS money from Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act.

Before that can happen, however, congressional leaders say they’ll need to pass a short-term resolution. Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have now both acknowledged a short-term funding bill is needed to avert a shutdown.

Collins said Wednesday that a deal on the 302(b) numbers could be announced later in the day.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said Tuesday he wasn’t hopeful the House and Senate could pass the first four appropriations bills that are facing the Jan. 19 deadline. A CR, he said, could extend government funding to March.

“It’d be hard with the time we have between now and the 19th,” Thune said. “Seems to me at least that we ought to allow some time to do some work on the other bills, and, if there is a CR, [it’s] maybe into the March time frame.”

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