The House dodged a near shutdown before rolling out of town, but Wednesday showed that GOP leaders face a seriously difficult task ahead in getting their fractious group behind measures to keep the government in business next year.
House Republicans must pass five more regular appropriations bills through their razor-thin GOP majority without help from Democrats, who oppose spending cuts proposed by Republicans.
But it is internal GOP problems that are now holding up the work. All five bills have been punted, blocked, or otherwise face issues that have long roiled the House GOP conference.
On Wednesday morning, 19 House Republicans torpedoed consideration of the party’s bill to fund the Department of Justice for most of next year — mostly because of objections from members of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Other members are frustrated with the tactics.
“It’s never easy to get work done around here. It’s a lot harder when you have people who, I think, are prone to emotionally immature decisions,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-Pa.), chair of the Main Street Caucus.
“The uber-conservatives that just brought down the rule are ultimately going to make it harder for us to get conservative wins,” he later added.
The members voting against the procedural rule were pressing for steeper cuts, and also raised scrutiny around the FBI.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), one of the defectors, said the measure “didn’t go far enough to defund some of the policies and practices going on with [the] Department of Justice and FBI weaponization of the government.”
Other hard-liners said the vote was also partly a protest of the legislation Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) brough to the floor Tuesday to prevent a shutdown. That measure passed with the help of Democrats.
Members of the Freedom Caucus repeatedly have tanked procedural votes to pressure their leaders to include more right-wing priorities in legislation, something that hasn’t slowed under Johnson.
In addition to the procedural vote Wednesday, House GOP leaders punted plans to move on two funding bills last week amid internal division.
The new development under Johnson further complicating things is that House GOP moderates are now flexing their power on procedural votes, too.
Four swing-district Republicans from New York also opposed the procedural rule vote to fund the Department of Justice on Wednesday.
Part of their opposition was over policy. Rep. Nick LaLota (N.Y.), one of the Republicans who voted against the rule, said he was concerned the proposed cuts would hurt law enforcement.
Another source said they were not happy the rule would have allowed floor votes on controversial amendments, such as one that would reduce the salary of special counsel Jack Smith — who is leading investigations into former President Trump — to $1.
They also wanted to protest the House GOP leadership’s funding strategy. Moderates, in a sense, took a page out of the Freedom Caucus playbook.
“My ‘no’ vote on the underlying rule was a message to my party’s leadership to stop wasting members’ time with doomed bills and start concocting more reasonable ones which can pass the House and which don’t disproportionately negatively affect my district,” LaLota told The Hill.
The vote is only the latest example of the delicate balancing act that GOP leadership has faced in trying to pass government funding to get a stronger hand ahead of eventual spending talks with the Senate.
Under the stopgap funding bill passed Tuesday, lawmakers have until mid-January to fund some government agencies — including the departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development. Others, including the Defense Department, would see funding expire Feb. 2.
The thinking is this will provide enough time for each chamber to finish passing its individual appropriations bills, allowing the House and Senate to hash out compromises on each of them.
But some veteran appropriators are also pushing for leadership to start negotiating a bipartisan agreement on overall funding levels sooner rather than later.
“We just can’t even start negotiating until we have that top-line number,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, while also telling reporters Wednesday that the sooner a bipartisan agreement is reached, “the better.”
At the same time, conservatives are still dialing up the pressure on leadership to pass the party’s remaining spending bills.
“The Speaker has said he won’t do another [continuing resolution]. We’re going to hold him to that; we’re going to take him at his word,” Good said, adding: “That means we’ve got to pass the remaining five bills, as my colleagues have said, that puts us in the strongest negotiating position.”
It is unclear how the House GOP can overcome its internal disagreements to do so.
The five remaining bills have seen opposition from various factions of the conference over issues including abortion, funding for a new FBI headquarters, and cuts in transportation operations.
Another bill Republicans hoped to pass before leaving Washington on Wednesday would have funded the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for most of next year, but not without steep cuts that faced staunch resistance from some moderates.
Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) told The Hill on Tuesday that he could not support that bill.
“The cuts are too deep,” Molinaro said. “They’re disproportionately hurt states like mine and constituents like mine, and I am a firm ‘no.’”
House lawmakers are scheduled to be in session for about five weeks before the mid-January funding deadline, giving Congress a tight schedule to finish its work.
“Speaker Johnson has now the time over Thanksgiving to coordinate a plan,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Wednesday.
“We expect to see tangible results to move us down the field in the right direction at the right magnitude,” said House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.).