The House of Representatives is currently grappling with the looming threat of a government shutdown under the leadership of Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). In an effort to prevent a shutdown and implement substantial reductions in government spending, House Republicans are expeditiously pushing forward with appropriations measures. This marks a critical juncture in the legislative process, with a range of significant issues and considerations on the table.
In the event that these bills pass the House, they will serve as a foundation for negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate, which is grappling with its own set of challenges in moving forward with 12 appropriations measures. This legislative activity follows the recent reopening of the House under Speaker Johnson, who assumed the position less than a week ago. Among the measures in question is an expansive partisan energy plan. Republicans aim to pass eight bills out of the House by November 17, the date when government funding is set to expire. Should negotiations falter, a stopgap measure may be necessary to avert a shutdown.
As the House GOP endeavors to move forward with these appropriations measures, several critical aspects warrant close observation.
The Stance of Hard-Line Fiscal Conservatives
Hard-line fiscal conservatives have indicated a willingness to provide Speaker Johnson with some latitude as he adapts to his new role and strives to secure support for the party’s spending bills. The duration of this grace period, however, remains uncertain. In the past, the Republican Party has faced challenges from conservatives dissatisfied with the conference’s spending strategy. While an initial goal was to pass the 12 annual government funding bills during the summer, these efforts encountered obstacles. Then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) encountered difficulties in uniting the party behind these bills due to demands for deeper cuts from conservative factions. Speaker Johnson has introduced a “working group” aimed at addressing concerns raised by members regarding the party’s agricultural funding bill for fiscal 2024. Notably, this bill failed to gain approval earlier due to opposition from moderate Republicans concerned about language related to access to abortion pills.
The Magnitude of Budget Cuts
The House GOP’s stance on the overall top-line funding levels for government spending bills remains uncertain. GOP negotiators had previously set funding levels lower than the budget caps established in the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), a compromise reached between McCarthy and the Biden administration earlier in the year. This legislation increased the nation’s borrowing limit, but it faced opposition from many House conservatives. These conservatives initially rallied behind a top-line funding level of $1.471 trillion for the party’s annual funding bills. However, tensions led to an intraparty compromise in September, establishing a level of $1.526 trillion. At the time, Republicans asserted that this agreement would pave the way for approximately $60 billion in additional cuts in funding bills. Nevertheless, questions persist about the viability of this commitment following McCarthy’s departure.
Prioritizing Ukraine, Israel, and Border Security
Congress is currently considering supplemental funding for Ukraine and Israel, with lawmakers from both parties advocating for emergency aid. Some members wish to combine aid for both nations in a single package, while opponents of aid for Ukraine argue for separate consideration. Republicans are also pressing for the inclusion of measures aimed at enhancing security along the southern border. Recently, the House GOP introduced legislation proposing over $14 billion in aid for Israel, with the funding derived from cuts to the IRS. However, this approach may actually increase the deficit, as the Congressional Budget Office found that similar proposed cuts would reduce IRS tax revenue. Some lawmakers, including Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), oppose aid for Ukraine and Israel, even if they are offset. Massie contends that such aid could lead to inflation and increased taxes.
The Next Shutdown Deadline
Congress faces a looming deadline of November 17 to pass legislation that will keep the government funded. Failure to meet this deadline could result in a government shutdown. Lawmakers from both sides anticipate the passage of a short-term funding bill to maintain funding levels approved in late 2022 temporarily. The specifics of this measure remain uncertain, as some Republicans are advocating for immediate cuts and alterations related to border security as part of the stopgap funding bill.
The 1 Percent Penalty
A previous debt ceiling bill this year introduced an incentive for Congress to complete its work. If Congress enters the next year without passing its 12 funding bills for fiscal 2024, an across-the-board 1 percent cut on defense and nondefense programs will be implemented. However, these cuts are not anticipated to take effect until April. Some Republicans argue for an extension of the next stopgap bill through April, exerting greater pressure on lawmakers. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) contended that a longer stopgap bill provides additional “leverage.” Speaker Johnson has also expressed openness to this idea and suggested that Republicans may seek to make the cuts effective in January, further incentivizing the Senate to address its responsibilities.