Updated Nov 14, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Democrats prepare to rescue Mike Johnson's “step stool” spending bill

Mike Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images.

House Democrats are gearing up to vote for Speaker Mike Johnson's (R-La.) measure keeping the government funded into early 2024.

Why it matters: The Democratic votes will likely make up for a GOP shortfall due to opposition from right-wing hardliners frustrated at the lack of spending cuts in the measure.

Driving the news: Coming out of their morning caucus meeting on Tuesday, Democrats signaled broad openness towards the bill because it keeps spending steady at 2023 levels and doesn't include conservative policy riders.

  • "The numbers seem to be pretty good to me," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). "The Farm Bill is extended ... none of their bulls*** MAGA culture wars are in this bill, so when all is said and done, I'm inclined to probably vote for it."
  • Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), the chair of the 98-member, center-left New Democrat Coalition said she expects "there will be Democratic votes for it."
  • Rep. Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.) told Axios he expects "the majority of Democrats" to support the bill: "It sounds like it's a clean CR with a weird stepping stool ... If it's a clean CR, why wouldn't we support it?"

The details: The bill would fund a handful of less controversial agency budgets until Jan. 19 and the rest until Feb. 2 to give lawmakers more time to approve annual appropriations bills.

  • The bill is slated for a vote Tuesday afternoon and needs to be passed by Friday to avoid a government shutdown.
  • Republicans are moving the measure to the floor by a process known as "suspension of the rules" which requires the bill to be passed with a two-thirds majority – meaning it will need significant bipartisan support.

What they're saying: House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) told reporters that Democratic leadership had not taken an official position as of Tuesday morning.

  • Aguilar said there are "concerns" about the fact the bill is bifurcated, but noted that the bill does not cross Democrats' "red lines" on spending cuts and conservatives policy riders.
  • "Speaker Johnson ... is bleeding votes within his conference," Aguilar added, noting it's a similar dynamic to when Congress passed a stopgap spending bill in September. "There is no prospect of him delivering the votes to achieve this."

What we're watching: Despite the similarities between this spending bill and the one that resulted in the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Johnson is not expected to face right-wing retaliation, Axios' Juliegrace Brufke reported.

  • Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told Axios he is confident Johnson won't face a removal effort because "we just elected him."
  • "This is not grade school, where if you don't like the results of your kickball game, you take the ball with you and go home," he said.
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