Nov 9, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP divisions force Mike Johnson to punt on spending bills

Speaker Mike Johnson. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

House Republicans on Thursday pulled their third government funding vote in two weeks due to threats from moderates and conservatives to kill the legislation.

Why it matters: Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is facing the same internal GOP divisions that led to the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy– and they may be getting worse.

  • "Everybody is facing that same state of play," said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), adding that the new speaker's "honeymoon period ... might be shorter than we thought."
  • "There's 20 or 30 Republicans that are more in the Biden districts, the frontline ... we're tired of taking crappy votes," said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.).

Driving the news: The House had been scheduled to vote on the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill on Tuesday morning, but the vote was abruptly cancelled.

  • The bill funds the Treasury Department, White House, federal judiciary and other agencies, as well as Washington, D.C.'s local budget.

State of play: Moderates from swing districts had objected to language in the bill blocking enforcement of a D.C. law banning discrimination over employees' reproductive health decisions.

  • Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) told reporters ahead of the planned vote that there were roughly five to eight GOP lawmakers planning to vote no based on that language.
  • Rep. John Duarte (R-Calif.) told reporters he expects the impasse to be resolved next week with the language being stripped out of the bill and put into an amendment that will likely fail on the House floor.

Zoom in: Republicans may have been able to still pass the bill due to Democratic absences, but right-wing hardliners raised last-minute objections after many of their amendments to the bill failed in floor votes.

  • Conservatives' failure to block funds for a new FBI headquarters was a particular issue.
  • "I would have liked to see us get that FBI headquarters delayed until we had resolved what's going on with the weaponization [of the federal government]," said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).
  • "For goodness sake, the thing costs as much as the Pentagon does and the funding is in there," said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.).

The backdrop: Republican leadership also pulled votes last week and this week on a bill funding the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

  • Northeastern Republicans, many in districts President Biden won in 2020, opposed the bill's severe cuts to Amtrak.
  • "Amtrak was going to lay off 15,000 people if those were the numbers. I'm not going to vote for that," said Bacon – though he said the issue has been "fixed" and the bill is expected to go to the floor next week.

Zoom out: Under McCarthy, annual government funding bills and short-term spending measures were repeatedly pulled or failed on the floor due to conservative opposition.

The bottom line: Bacon told Axios that Johnson is likely getting even less slack from moderates than McCarthy, who was well-liked among his party's centrists, due to growing frustrations about leadership constantly trying to appease the party's right flank.

  • "For the first nine or ten months, we were trying to help out Speaker McCarthy," he said. "But I think after the speaker's race, the pragmatic conservatives are like, 'Well, we've sort of had enough of this. We're going to stand up for ourselves.'"
  • "I think our voices are being heard," Biden-district Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.) said of the abortion language in the financial services bill. "We're raising that awareness to say, this is not where the country is."
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