Sep 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Centrists plot shutdown Plan B as House GOP flails on spending bills

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suffered two major setbacks Tuesday in his quest to avert a government shutdown:

  1. McCarthy pulled a procedural vote on a stopgap spending bill that would keep the government funded for another 30 days, after more than a dozen Republicans voiced opposition.
  2. Five GOP hardliners sided with Democrats to defeat a Pentagon funding bill — demanding Republican leadership provide clarity on the total spending levels of all 12 appropriations bills.

Why it matters: The House GOP is trapped in a cycle of self-sabotage. In an ironic twist of fate, frustrated Republicans are now growing more open to cutting a deal with Democrats — the worst possible outcome for the conservative hardliners agitating for deeper spending cuts.

Driving the news: The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus — composed of centrists from both parties — is meeting Wedesday to discuss a Plan B. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) will be in attendance.

  • "This was a vote for our defense and it should have passed. It's time we start bipartisan talks and make the best deal we can," said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), pointing out that bipartisan negotiations would eventually happen with the Senate in any case.

Zoom in: A subgroup of the PSC focused on appropriations met last week to hammer out a plan to keep the government funded, which they will roll out to the full group at Wednesday's meeting, according to a source familiar.

  • A Republican member of the caucus said the deal would be unveiled "when the failure of [the GOP's short-term spending bill] is imminent."
  • Bacon and Problem Solvers co-chairs Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) were seen shuffling in and out of the House parliamentarian's office today.

The intrigue: Behind the scenes, the center-left New Democrats and center-right Republican Governance Groups have also had talks about a bipartisan spending solution.

  • "God forbid we have a shutdown, I would look to these two groups as some of the ones that are likely to take the lead to finding a path," Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), vice chair of the New Dems, told Axios.

Yes, but: An aide to a Democratic member of the PSC advised taking Republicans' embrace of bipartisan talks with a grain of salt.

  • "Likely … they're trying to put pressure on their more conservative colleagues and say, 'Look, you're pushing us into Democrats' hands,'" the aide said.

The big picture: The defeat of the Pentagon funding bill triggered a new wave of anger from rank-and-file Republicans, several of whom acknowledged the GOP would be blamed for a shutdown.

  • Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.), a military veteran, accused the five GOP holdouts of handing a victory to the Chinese Communist Party by voting against "the most conservative DoD bill in modern history."
  • "These are the kinds of things people will remember for a long time," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), chair of the Rules Committee.
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