WASHINGTON — Newly minted Speaker Mike Johnson has pitched House Republicans on a short-term funding bill to prevent a government shutdown next month while they hammer out a longer-term solution.
Even ultraconservative lawmakers who firmly oppose stopgap bills said after he won the speakership that they’re willing to give him the space to pursue his plan, explaining that they trust him and that he inherited a tough situation. It’s a sign that Johnson, R-La., will have a honeymoon period with the fractious and narrow House majority.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., indicated he’s open to a “bridge” to prevent a shutdown after Johnson laid out his plan to Republicans on Wednesday to pass individual funding bills. It’s a significant shift from a few weeks ago when Gaetz triggered the motion to remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker after he passed a stopgap funding bill with Democratic support.
“I don’t like governing by continuing resolution. But Kevin McCarthy wanted to govern by continuing resolution to get us to the next continuing resolution,” Gaetz told NBC News. “I think Mike Johnson has a lot more credibility that a bridge would be a bridge to single-subject spending bills, not a bridge to just the old ways of Washington that empowered McCarthy’s lobbyist donors.”
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., one of the eight rebels who voted to remove McCarthy, made clear he wasn’t committing to supporting a continuing resolution but said he recognizes that Johnson is in a jam with only three weeks to avoid a shutdown.
“It’s a little extraordinary this go-around,” Burchett said. “He’s in a precarious situation. But I’m not saying that I’ll vote for it.”
In a letter to colleagues dated Oct. 23, Johnson laid out an aggressive timeline to pass individual funding bills. He wrote that “if another stopgap measure is needed to extend government funding beyond the November 17 deadline, I would propose a measure that expires on January 15 or April 15 (based on what can obtain Conference consensus), to ensure the Senate cannot jam the House with a Christmas omnibus.”
Many House Republicans are likely to vote against a continuing resolution, but as long as they don’t retaliate against Johnson for leaning on some Democratic votes to pass it, Congress will be in good shape to avert a shutdown on Nov. 17.
“I didn’t vote for any of the CRs before so that’s not what I’m interested in,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.
Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., another McCarthy rebel, said that Johnson is “in a tough spot” with such a short timeline, and that he doesn’t blame him for needing more time to advance the appropriations process.
“So admittedly with three weeks ago til the terrible spending deal that McCarthy negotiated … expires, that puts a lot of pressure on us and on the new speaker,” Good said. “But he’s going to ramp up the schedule. We’re going to be aggressive and ambitious. We’re going to be in session next week. We weren’t scheduled to do so after having been up here for all these weeks in row. That’s what we should do. I suspect they’ll be late nights and weekends. And then we’ll see where we are as we come to the end of that.”
Good said he personally “will not vote for an unconditional CR,” unless it has conservative policy provisions attached.
Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., a center-right lawmaker and leadership ally, backed Johnson’s approach to a short-term bill.
“I think that’s the smart strategy right now. We have a very short, truncated time period to actually get the appropriations bills across the finish line. And because of that, I’m not sure we’ll be able to get it done in a timely fashion,” she said. “I think most of the members of Congress are not interested in a government shutdown, which is why we passed the CR previously, and so this strategy should be one that’ll allow us to get work done and move forward.”
“If there’s any member of this conference that is looking for Speaker Johnson to fail, that’s a terrible strategy,” she continued. “We need him to succeed.”
Democrats are open to it. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the ranking member of the powerful Ways & Means Committee, said he could support a short-term bill if Johnson goes that route.
“Yes. I’ll tell you why: I think we need to take some of the tension out of the process here, takes some of the pressure off,” Neal said.
Any full-year funding deal would require the approval of the Democratic-led Senate and President Joe Biden.
If the government runs on autopilot into next year, automatic cuts are set to take effect in April because of a provision in the recent debt limit law. Neal said those cuts would be “very damaging” and should be avoided by reaching a full-year funding deal.
“But in the interim, there should be sufficient time for the committee to work as well,” he said.
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., said three weeks of GOP infighting without a speaker have led to a willingness to give Johnson a soft landing as he pursues their conservative priorities.
“I think the members understand it,” he said. “We got a lot of work to do. We’re kind of under the gun. So it is what it is.”
“We’ve been through a lot internally in the last couple of weeks. But I always think that when you go through a lot of this stuff, that people have to get real. They have to get brutally honest with each other, and you go through fits and starts and anger and that stuff,” Donalds said. “I think there’s a newfound level of understanding amongst all of our members on what the priorities need to be.”