Congress passed a short-term funding package on Thursday to keep the government running into early March, with Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson steering the measure through his unruly caucus with the help of Democrats in order to – yet again – narrowly skirt a shutdown set to take effect this weekend.
“It will give Congress time to continue working on the appropriations process to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who brokered the continuing resolution with Johnson over the weekend.
The measure cleared the Senate chamber easily with broad bipartisan support, 77-18. Despite objections from the far-right House Freedom Caucus, whose members insisted on changes to immigration laws as part of the plan, Republican leaders in the House took up the measure quickly and passed it with the required two-thirds majority, 314-108, Thursday evening ahead of an incoming snowstorm.
Johnson has been under intense pressure from Republican hard-liners, who see the new speaker’s dealmaking with Democrats as anathema to their conservative agenda. And overriding their concerns to pass the short-term funding package with help from the majority of Democrats does little to help his case.
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Johnson peddled the continuing resolution to his caucus all week by emphasizing how the package buys time for Congress to complete its 12 appropriations bills, to which they intend to insert policy riders on issues like abortion. Moreover, he argued, working with Democrats and brokering a deal – even if it’s not the one he wants – is necessary given their shrinking majority.
Come Monday, their majority will shrink to 217 – the smallest Republican majority in the history of Congress – as Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio resigned to accept a job as a university president.
But some in the GOP have drawn a hard line against more short-term funding, which Johnson himself pledged to do away with upon being named speaker, and resent the $1.66 trillion top-level funding agreement as well, which Johnson brokered with Schumer last week.
In the run-up to the vote, they called for shutting down the government.
“Here we are again, with House Democrats once again providing the votes to avert a costly shutdown. After months of reneging, wrangling and chaos from the Republican side, Speaker Johnson finally admitted last week that the only way forward was to honor the bipartisan budget agreement,” Rep. Brendan Boyle, ranking member of the Budget Committee, said in a statement. “With this latest shutdown threat behind us, it’s past time for House Republicans to quit the brinkmanship, finish funding the government, and allow Congress to focus on the other critical issues facing our nation.”
A handful of Freedom Caucus members, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas and Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona, even threatened to make a motion to vacate the chair – the procedural step that a single member can invoke to begin the process of firing the House speaker.
“If things continue to go the way they’re going, do I think that’s a possible outcome? Absolutely,” said Crane.
Their objections are also forward-looking to a looming and unrelated legislative brawl over a bipartisan national security spending bill taking shape in the Senate – a long-sought effort to include border and immigration restrictions to the president’s $100 billion request to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and to boost border security.
Looking ahead, Congress now has just six weeks to pass a series of appropriations bills to fully fund the government, or risk major cuts triggered by the Fiscal Responsibility Act’s 1% across-the-board cuts to discretionary funding in April.
With little to no appetite in either chamber for another continuing resolution – Thursday’s passage marks the third stop-gap spending measure since September – appropriators will have to work quickly to ensure enough time is left to debate and negotiate a series of controversial policy riders that will likely be offered by both parties.
For Johnson in particular, the next six weeks will represent the biggest test of his three-month young speakership. Having already committed the same cardinal political sin of working with Democrats – a legislative necessity that led to the ouster of his predecessor, Rep. Kevin McCarty of California – he’ll be forced to walk a tightrope that hews more closely to the far-right flank of his chamber while managing to craft something that’s also passable in the Senate.