House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) postponed a key procedural vote Tuesday on a measure aimed at averting a government shutdown, as Republican leaders continued to try to appease hard-right members of the party. The vote was postponed because the House GOP conference has not been able to unite behind a short-term funding bill proposed by several conservatives as a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government looms.
The procedural vote, originally scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, would have been a key step toward passing the stopgap funding measure out of the House — even if it was likely to be rejected by the Senate. McCarthy has repeatedly urged House Republicans to pass something so they can start negotiating with the Senate and secure some policy victories on spending cuts and border security. But at least a dozen hard-right lawmakers — angry over what they say is a lack of information on lowering top-line budget numbers and assurances that the Senate will adhere to their fiscal demands — have stymied efforts to pass the 30-day funding bill.
In a shift Tuesday morning, some hard-right Republicans who had helped craft the short-term funding deal over the weekend, including Freedom Caucus chairman Scott Perry (Pa.), expressed openness to making changes to the package to appease the holdouts in their party. Others who helped strike the deal, including Main Street Caucus chair Dusty Johnson (S.D.), said that holdouts would come around and support the conservative measure — which includes cuts and a border security proposal for which Republicans have previously voted — once they took the time to understand what was in it.
Trying to get all but four Republicans to back a short-term funding bill has proven to be a herculean effort for the conference, which has faced objections from far-right lawmakers who are making demands that the conference has little to no time to address. Though lawmakers across the ideological spectrum spent a majority of Tuesday huddling to find a path forward on a stopgap bill, whatever is agreed upon will probably be rejected by the Senate, with a little over a week to go until the government is shut down.
And in another reflection of the quagmire within the Republican conference, the House on Tuesday afternoon failed — just as it had last week — to pass a procedural vote that would have advanced a bill to fund the Defense Department for a full year, a vote that is usually passed without controversy. The procedure failed on a 212-214 vote, with five Republicans joining Democrats to vote against it.
Hard-right lawmakers have been calling on GOP leaders to pass all 12 appropriation bills to fund the government for the full year. But many have also served as an impediment to that goal, blocking basic procedural steps and preventing the rest of the House Republican conference from approving policies many largely support.
After the failed vote, several frustrated Republicans railed against the five GOP lawmakers who had voted against advancing the Defense Department funding bill.
“The Republican conference of this Congress did not vote this down,” Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) said. “Five members of our conference did and they should be held accountable.”
The effort previews the overall difficulty Republican leadership has to ensure that they can fund the government for a full fiscal year. Doing so carries demands by hard-right lawmakers and threatens vulnerable incumbents representing districts President Biden won because they would have to vote on scores of cuts that could negatively impact their swing-district constituents.
Conversations within the House Republican conference were far less contentious Tuesday than last week, when tensions came to a boil and McCarthy reportedly dared his detractors to remove him from the speakership. Even so, Republicans are beginning to recognize that time to avert a shutdown and avoid blame for it if it happens is running out, causing many pragmatic and moderate lawmakers to begin drafting contingency plans — some of which involve compromising with Democrats.
In the Republicans’ closed-door conference meeting Tuesday, Rep. Byron Donalds (Fla.), another lawmaker who was involved in negotiations on the continuing resolution, urged his colleagues to simply vote on it, according to a person in attendance, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
Objectors to the short-term funding deal were instructed Tuesday morning to tell the conference their specific demands, the person said. Only Rep. Bob Good (Va.) stepped up, asking for top-line budget numbers and bemoaning not passing the 12 individual appropriations bills on which the party is united.
Republican leaders then instructed those with objections to meet with the six lawmakers who had negotiated the deal: Johnson and fellow Reps. Stephanie I. Bice (Okla.) and Kelly Armstrong (N.D.) from the pragmatic Main Street Caucus, and Reps. Chip Roy (Tex.), Perry and Donalds from the Freedom Caucus.
Shortly after that, the procedural vote was canceled, prompting confusion and frustration among some Republicans. A large stack of pizzas and a whiteboard were spotted being wheeled into the office of Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), where several GOP lawmakers were gathered.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) lamented the time that he said was being wasted over a proposal that the Senate is almost certain to dramatically change. House Freedom Caucus members and other hard-right holdouts were focusing too much on the initial part of the budget negotiations, he said.
“Another aggravation with me in my own party is that we get caught up in the moment. And we’re not very good at thinking two or three moves from now,” Womack said. “You can’t claim victory on something that has no chance of becoming law. And I have likened it to wetting oneself. … You get a warm feeling that nobody knows.”
The legislation proposed by Republicans over the weekend would keep the government running until Oct. 31 and trigger a 1 percent cut to current fiscal levels, according to the plan released just before lawmakers were briefed Sunday evening. The 1 percent cut is an average for the federal budget. The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs would not receive any cuts, while other government agencies would see their budgets slashed by 8 percent until the end of October.
Alexandra Heal contributed to this report.