Apr 5, 2024 - Politics & Policy

GOP hardliners squeeze Mike Johnson on Baltimore bridge funds

Members of the House Freedom Caucus at a press conference in a wood-paneled TV studio with a podium and several flags.

Members of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus at a press conference on government funding on March 22. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

The right-wing House Freedom Caucus on Friday released a list of stipulations to support funding for rebuilding the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

Why it matters: It creates the potential for yet more internal furor toward House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) if he bypasses the caucus' demands and moves to pass the funding on a bipartisan basis.

Driving the news: In a statement on laying out its "official position," the Freedom Caucus offered several proposed limits on the funding.

  1. That the U.S. seek "maximum liability" from the foreign shipping companies involved in the collision and draw from all available funds.
  2. That any federal funding allocated for the bridge be offset – likely with budget cuts – and that all "burdensome regulations," such as the Endangered Species Act, are waived.
  3. That the bill be "limited to the physical structure repairs with a federal nexus" and not include funding for any "unrelated projects."
  4. That the Biden administration lift its pause on liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports "before Congress considers appropriating any funding for the bridge reconstruction."'

The backdrop: Major sections of the bridge, a critical artery spanning the Patapsco River in Baltimore, collapsed late last month after a container ship lost power and collided with it.

  • The Biden administration immediately approved $60 million in federal emergency relief funds to begin repairing the damage.
  • Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young is asking Congress to authorize a "100 percent Federal cost share" for the remaining repair costs.

Between the lines: The Freedom Caucus' demand list could throw a wrench in the process as it includes several "poison pills" that Democrats are unlikely to support.

  • That puts Johnson in a familiarly difficult position as he tries to balance a desire to legislate with the demands of his right flank.
  • The speaker is fighting a similar battle over Israel and Ukraine aid, trying to appeal to Democrats without touching off a revolt from his own party's hardliners.
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