House Republicans entered a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday morning hoping to find some consensus on a spending plan. Instead, they came out more confused — with only 10 days left until a potential shutdown.
Speaker Mike Johnson laid out two possible approaches he’d recently started floating to members: a “clean” continuing resolution, which would keep the government funded through mid-January, or a so-called laddered CR, which would set different deadlines on different tranches of government funding. If Republicans couldn’t agree on either of those options, Johnson said, the Democratic-controlled Senate could jam the House GOP with its own mammoth spending bill.
That warning didn’t move the needle, as Republicans left the meeting starkly divided on which path to take.
“There’s too many ideas right now, which is fine — the speaker wants us to have an open forum to debate it,” said Rep. Richard McCormick (R-Ga.). “But now there’s so many ideas, we have to figure out how to whittle it down.”
Other lawmakers were more direct. One GOP member, granted anonymity to speak frankly, called the meeting a “train wreck,” while Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) described the path forward as “clear as mud.”
Republicans painted the meeting as a temperature check, arguing that Johnson was hearing out members before he settled on a plan. It’s a similar tack former Speaker Kevin McCarthy tried to take back in September, before it became obvious that no proposal could pass the House without help from Democrats. The same battle lines are there: Some members are embracing a clean, short-term spending bill, while others are already vehemently opposed.
“I would argue that the preference is not for a clean CR. … It’s not going to be the one that gets 218 votes,” said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), the chair of the Republican Study Committee.
Now, it seems inevitable that Johnson will have to push forward on shutdown-averting legislation that at least some of his conference is loath to support. Some conservatives are already vowing to oppose a “clean” short-term funding patch, including Reps. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) and Andy Ogles (R-Tenn.). If Johnson loses more than four GOP votes, he would need Democratic support to clear any funding bill through the House, just as McCarthy did. However, some believe Johnson will be given more latitude than his predecessor.
“I’m not going to tell you what the CR will entail yet,” Johnson told reporters after the meeting.
Meanwhile, many appropriators, centrists and other members are advocating for a clean bill.
“I do think that the two-stage one is potentially riskier. And when I say riskier, I mean riskier in that it may give the Senate the ability to jam us,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), an appropriator. “Whatever the speaker determines is the best way to move forward, I will support.”
Asked about members who oppose a clean CR, House Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) replied: “Does that mean you are in favor of a government shutdown? Because I’m not. And I think that’s not good leverage. That’s taking a hostage you can’t shoot.”
And while Cole said he appreciated Johnson letting everyone talk through options during Tuesday’s meeting, he stressed that the Louisiana Republican eventually has to call the play: “I don’t think we can have everybody on the team deciding they get to be the quarterback. We just elected the quarterback.”
Johnson had laid out similar options to avoid a shutdown in a leadership meeting Monday night, but aspects of that proposal were already ruled out after Tuesday’s full conference meeting. The speaker had talked about a two-part spending package that funded one tranche of bills until Dec. 7 and a second set until Jan. 19, but some conservatives already say that timeline wouldn’t work. Instead, they want the first deadline to stretch into January, with a second later deadline unspecified.
During the meeting, Johnson urged members not to air their opinions to the press. The appeal didn’t work, with Republicans voicing still-bitter grievances over how much time the conference had wasted on fights over the gavel.
“At this point there really isn’t any consensus,” said another House Republican, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We are all over the place, like usual.”
In the meantime, House Republicans this week are attempting to pass more funding bills, including Financial Services and General Government as well as Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. The latter was derailed last week over cuts to Amtrak.
And there are more contentious spending bills still on deck that concern controversial abortion policy riders and cuts to the Justice Department. Johnson will also have to decide whether to attach a supplemental to any continuing resolution, which could include additional money for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the border.
Caitlin Emma contributed.