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House passes bill to avert government shutdown, sends to Senate

The House on Tuesday passed stopgap legislation to keep the federal government operating past this weekend, sending the bill to the Senate days before the deadline without any of the deep spending cuts conservative Republicans had sought.

Without new spending laws, the government will shut down at 12:01 a.m., Saturday, forcing federal workers — including military members and airport security agents — to miss paychecks on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday. The legislation, passed on a 336-95 vote, extends funding at current spending levels for about 20 percent of the federal government until Jan. 19, and the remaining 80 percent until Feb. 2.

The “laddered” deadlines in the bill, called a continuing resolution or CR, are designed to allow the House and Senate to pass and negotiate full-year spending bills — though the two chambers are nowhere near an agreement on those — and avoid a massive year-end spending bill called an omnibus. It could still trigger two more standoffs that lead to partial government shutdowns early next year.

“This is an important innovation,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told reporters Tuesday morning. “We have broken the fever. We are not going to have a massive omnibus spending bill right before Christmas. This is a gift to the American people.”

Funds would expire for military and veterans programs, agriculture and food agencies, and the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development on Jan. 19. They would expire for the State, Defense, Commerce, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments, among others, on Feb. 2. The bill passed the House under a process called “suspension of the rules,” which required two-thirds of the chamber to approve the measure because some far-right Republicans refused to allow it to proceed under a lower threshold without spending reductions.

Leaders of both parties in the Senate have endorsed the proposal, and the upper chamber is expected to vote on the bill later this week.

“I am heartened — cautiously so — that Speaker Johnson is moving forward with a CR that omits precisely the sort of hard-right cuts that would have been nonstarters for Democrats,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “I certainly don’t agree with everything the speaker is proposing, and I can’t imagine too many senators would have taken the speaker’s approach in drafting this bill. But the proposal before the House does two things Democrats have pushed for: It will avert a shutdown, and it will do so without making any terrible hard-right cuts that the MAGA right-wing demands.”

He called the laddered approach “goofy” later in a news conference, but said he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would act “as soon as possible” on the legislation.

House Democrats said they were not happy about the bifurcated deadlines in the bill, but they were relieved to vote for it to prevent a shutdown.

“The main principle is keeping the government open. We’re not talking about even saving face,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) told The Washington Post. “This is the 11th hour. We don’t have many alternatives here.”

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said he worried the GOP would be blamed if federal funds did expire.

“I just think people realize it’s not a good idea,” he said of shutting down the government. “Not a good policy, not good politics.”

The legislation represents a major compromise from Johnson, who eschewed calls from the far-right flank of the GOP conference to slash federal spending or add controversial policy provisions that Democrats and some Republicans reject.

And it forced him to draw on a legislative strategy that cost his predecessor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the speaker’s gavel in October. Johnson did lose 93 Republican votes, and the approach landed him in hot water with conservatives and deficit hawks who have been a thorn in the side of GOP leaders for nearly a decade. But there was no sign that the right wing would push immediately to oust him, as they did McCarthy.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, said Republicans opposed to the continuing resolution had discussed “a couple of different actions” to take in response Johnson’s reliance on Democratic votes to pass the bill. But he declined to specify what — if anything — they would do. Still, Johnson is “well-advised of our extraordinary concerns” about the bill, Roy said.

Johnson told reporters Tuesday morning that he was “done with short-term CRs,” and preferred to only consider year-long spending bills. But Roy suggested it might be a tough vow to keep.

“Mike is an extraordinary man of integrity and honor,” he said. “I take him at his word. But what I think you’ve got to remember [is] this is a job where it’s very difficult to honor our commitments like that. You’re going to get up to another deadline.”

Democrats seemed irritated about the process, too, but for the opposite reason.

“What we’ve seen is they cannot do rational policy without our votes,” Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “We’re hoisted on the petard of a large number of nihilists in the Republican Party.”

Other Republicans said they hope to extract concessions from the Democrats in future spending debates. Hard-right conservatives hope to attach policy provisions to spending bills that would limit abortion access and defund the construction of a new FBI headquarters, among other proposals.

For much of the GOP conference, the legislation’s mid-January and February deadlines made it feel like Christmas came early.

The frenzied year-end government funding season can run up against Christmastime, especially as Congress passes stopgap funding bills. Lawmakers often concede that Congress cannot operate without a deadline, and the winter recess is an important time for members to return home to be with family — and practice retail politics with constituents.

This bill, Republicans said on the House floor, buys lawmakers time to spend the holidays at home. Last year, the House voted on a $1.7 trillion spending bill on Dec. 23, as a brutal cold snap descended on Washington.

“We simply can’t continue to pass large, bloated omnibus appropriations bills just before Christmas,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), an appropriator from the House Freedom Caucus and the architect of the laddered resolution. “And this bill is a new approach to break the cycle.”

Tempers flared Tuesday in Congress as members eye the end of one of the most contentious stretches in Washington many members have faced since the coronavirus pandemic. In the House and the Senate, physical confrontations nearly broke out during the day.

“This will allow everybody to go home for a couple of days for Thanksgiving,” Johnson told reporters. “Everybody cool off. Members have been here for 10 weeks. This place is a pressure cooker.”

McCarthy was booted in early October by outraged conservatives, just after Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown by passing a bipartisan funding extension.

After three weeks of limbo in which other candidates failed to secure enough votes, Johnson, a relative leadership novice, was elected speaker and immediately thrust into spending fights — with the president, Senate, House Democrats and even his own conference.

Johnson rejected a $106 billion national defense spending request from President Biden that covered funding for Ukraine’s defense against Russia, Israel’s fight against Hamas terrorists, countering Chinese influence in the Pacific, and security along the U.S.-Mexico border. The speaker delighted conservatives by breaking off the Israel funding into its own bill and pairing it with $14 billion in cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, hampering the agency’s ability to audit high-income earners and corporations. Johnson also linked additional aid for Ukraine to major changes in U.S. immigration policy.

Johnson has also attempted to push through appropriations bills — year-long spending measures — but with limited success, thwarted on one hand by GOP moderates opposed to transportation spending cuts and on the other by conservatives in favor of divisive policy provisions on spending, abortion and immigration. Those disputes have deprived Johnson of sorely needed leverage in negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said he thought Johnson would be able to maintain the trust of his conference despite relying on Democratic votes because Johnson inherited the situation from McCarthy.

“This mess was caused by Kevin dragging his feet,” Buck said.

If the House and Senate haven’t agreed on 12 appropriations laws by the start of next year, across-the-board 1 percent spending cuts are set to kick in at the end of April, which archconservatives have hoped to use to compel those policy changes. So far, the House is pushing for spending laws funded at far lower levels than the Senate — and also lower than the levels that Biden and McCarthy had agreed on earlier this year in a deal involving the federal debt ceiling.

“That’s a broadsword and not a scalpel,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) told The Post of the across-the-board cuts, “and I think a lot of people would rather have a scalpel.”

But those cuts are not enough to some deficit-focused Republicans to drive down spending, since many federal programs saw their budgets expand rapidly during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s the best leverage we have,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee. “And remember, sometimes the leverage here is more perception.”

Jacqueline Alemany, Mariana Alfaro, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Liz Goodwin, Paul Kane and Theodoric Meyer contributed to this report.

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