Jan 9, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Top House conservatives see little hope in upcoming spending fight

Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Leading conservatives in the House are publicly projecting pessimism about their prospects of securing policy wins or spending cuts in upcoming fights over annual government spending bills.

Why it matters: It's a rare and telling bit of expectation-setting as House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) prepares to try to ram through another compromise with Senate Democrats.

  • Hardliners feel particularly burned after the bipartisan passage of a major defense bill that excluded their many of their efforts to scale back military diversity programs and affirmative action, restrict access to abortion and gender-affirming care and rein in government surveillance.

What they're saying: "Past history would not indicate that we are willing to fight for good policy or reduced spending," Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), chair of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, told Axios after a GOP leadership meeting.

  • Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said, "I don't have a lot of confidence we have a lot of leverage" given Democratic control both the Senate and the White House.
  • "I think that you're going to see us just try to get the appropriations bills passed," Hern said. "With only a one or two vote margin, it's going to have to be very bipartisan, which means you're not going to get the policy riders that conservatives want."
  • "I am not optimistic based on what they just negotiated on the national defense bill," Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said in a radio interview on Tuesday.

State of play: Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) struck an agreement over the weekend to keep total government spending this year at the levels set out in last year's bipartisan debt ceiling deal.

  • That has conservatives up in arms: "House Republicans cannot surrender like this and need to fight harder," said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) in a post on X.
  • Some took aim at Johnson for casting it as a $1.59 trillion deal, noting that side agreements former Speaker Kevin McCarthy made with President Biden bring the topline number closer to $1.66 trillion.

What we're watching: After McCarthy struck one too many bipartisan deals, hardliners triggered a vote to remove him as speaker. Now, faint signals are starting to emerge that Johnson may find himself in a similar position.

  • "If they totally botch [the appropriations bills] – we get no policy reforms and we're spending at $1.66 trillion – I don't know why we would keep him as speaker," Roy said.
  • "I'm leaving it on the table," he said of a vote to oust Johnson. "I'm not going to say I'm going to go file it tomorrow ... I think the speaker needs to know that we're angry about it."

What's next: Lawmakers have until Jan. 19 to pass the first four of the twelve appropriations bills, and until Feb. 2 to pass the other eight.

  • That's a heavy lift, with Senate Republicans already predicting Congress will need to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government funded past Jan. 19.
  • A short-term bill was discussed in the GOP leadership meeting, Hern said, but Johnson "did not indicate" he has dropped his opposition to such a move.
  • Asked by reporters about a possible short-term spending bill, Johnson said simply that the House has to put the "pedal to the metal" on appropriations bills.
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