Sep 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

House Republicans scramble for solutions to spending impasse

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

House Republicans are eyeing several possible solutions to the internal logjam that has made it impossible to pass government spending bills.

Why it matters: The government runs out of money on Sept. 30, giving the House just two weeks to pass legislation heading off a government shutdown.

What we're hearing: Leaders of the right-wing Freedom Caucus and the pragmatist Main Street Caucus have been quietly meeting for several hours over the last two days, according to an aide and a lawmakers familiar with the talks.

  • Under discussion is a stopgap measure that would keep the government funded for 30 days while enacting a 5% topline spending cut and most of Republicans' border legislation.
  • The negotiators include Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) and Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) of the Main Street Caucus and Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) of the Freedom Caucus.
  • "We're having serious conversations about what we think a path forward is. We've been working diligently ... but right now we're still talking," said Donalds. "It's been very productive."

Yes, but: That bill, called a continuing resolution, would be designed to pass along party lines in the GOP-led House — and face certain death in the Democratic-led Senate.

  • Still, Republicans are desperate to pass something — anything — to strengthen their position in negotiations with the Senate.
  • "To give us the most leverage to give us the most fiscally responsible result, we should pass conservative appropriations bills or send a CR over with border security," said Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.).

The big picture: Some members across the ideological spectrum are pushing for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to hold a vote next week on a Pentagon funding bill that was shelved Wednesday due to opposition from the right.

  • Conservative Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) told Axios he proposed in a closed-door GOP conference meeting that leadership "put the bill on the floor ... and let it fail."
  • "I know conventional wisdom says don't do that because it would slow your forward progress," Massie continued. "But if progress has ground to a halt, it seems like the way to move forward."
  • Armstrong cited the urgency of defense funding, telling Axios, "Funding our military is probably pretty important right now, and so I'd put it up and I'd figure out where we're at."

What we're watching: The key question is whether the hardliners who have stymied McCarthy's efforts to pass spending bills will continue to stand in the way.

  • Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), one of the speaker's most persistent foes, told Axios he has "participated" in the Main Street-Freedom Caucus talks as an observer.
  • Asked if he believes progress is being made, Bishop answered cryptically: "I'm not yet prepared to say that I think so or not."

The bottom line: "It's not particularly pretty to watch, but I think pressure is pushing us towards a deal and ... away from a shutdown" said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a McCarthy ally who chairs the House Rules Committee.

  • "I think we're stumbling towards a solution in spite of ourselves," he added.
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