McCarthy seeks to ward off GOP uproar on spending stopgap

The normally routine task of passing a stopgap measure to fund the government after Sept. 30 could pose unique challenges for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as he tries to ward off a conservative revolt and prevent a shutdown. 

Conservatives are not yet saying they’ll flatly oppose a short-term funding patch, known as a continuing resolution (CR), as they push to secure sharp spending cuts in next year’s appropriations bills. But such an extension, by keeping spending at current levels, would defy the hard-liners’ demands for aggressive deficit reduction in fiscal 2024. 

And some are already warning against the CR strategy for that reason.

“None of us want a CR in any form, and the most conservative of us are at the table working together with our Republican colleagues to get the job done,” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) said in a statement. “I will not support Democrat policies that are destroying our country, and a CR, even short term, would do just that.”

The early hostility toward a temporary funding fix could pose headaches for McCarthy, who heads into the appropriations battle facing pressure to cut a spending deal with Democrats without infuriating the conservative deficit hawks who are already eyeing hardball tactics to prevent such an agreement from reaching President Biden’s desk. A failure of Congress to act by Oct. 1 would force large parts of the federal government to shut down.  

McCarthy, in a break from Speakers of the past, has committed to passing all 12 appropriations bills this year. Taking that promise a step further, he has also vowed to reject a massive compilation of those bills, known as an omnibus, which has become Congress’s standard strategy for funding the government at year’s end. Both were part of the concessions McCarthy made to conservatives in January to win their support for his Speakership.

But with the House scheduled to be in session for just six weeks before the Sept. 30 funding deadline, it is highly unlikely the chamber can both pass all 12 bills and secure a deal with the Democratic-led Senate — which is funding its 2024 spending bills at the higher levels negotiated by McCarthy and Biden in last month’s debt ceiling agreement — in that time frame.

For the moment, conservatives are remaining outwardly optimistic that a CR is avoidable, providing McCarthy with some breathing room as Congress returns to Washington this week following the long Fourth of July recess.

“I’m confident that the Republican Conference will pass all 12 appropriations bills,” Higgins said.

A spokesperson for Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said in an email to The Hill that while the congressman “loathes the use of CRs,” he “is opposed to any discussion of a CR at this point, especially with ~2 months remaining in this process.”

“Every effort needs to be focused on reasonable spending reductions within these 12 appropriations bills, not trying to punt the ball yet again,” Norman’s spokesperson said.

Complicating the equation for House Republicans has been the McCarthy-Biden debt ceiling deal, which capped nondefense discretionary spending in 2024 at roughly the 2023 level — the figure Senate Democrats are using as their baseline. Yet that spending freeze has done little to mollify the conservative deficit hawks in the House, who are demanding 2024 cuts back to 2022 levels and expect McCarthy to achieve those reductions without any budgetary gimmicks. 

In a way, the debt ceiling deal anticipated the need for a short-term stopgap extending beyond Sept. 30. A provision intended to encourage Congress to pass appropriations in a timely manner requires any stopgap measures would include 1 percent spending cuts, even for the Pentagon, if funding bills are not approved by Jan. 1 — rather than Oct. 1. 

Resistance to a stopgap funding measure is not limited to hard-line conservatives.

Moderate Republican Rep. Jen Kiggans (Va.) on Monday brought up her opposition to stopgap funding by mentioning an agency that Republicans want to fund more, as opposed to federal spending they are hoping to cut.

“We need to get the NDAA passed. We cannot have a CR. This is not the time,” Kiggans said, referring to the annual defense authorization bill. “National security needs to be a priority for each and every one of us. If we don’t have world peace, we have nothing. The threats of China are out there. We know that the world is not safe in other places. … We have to be a deterrent and we do that through providing the budget that the military needs.”

The House is taking up its version of the legislation this week. The committee-passed version authorizes $874 billion in spending, an increase from the $847.3 billion approved for fiscal 2023. But the House will have to wait for the Senate — where defense hawks want to authorize higher funding levels.  

“I don’t want to see a CR in general, especially for our military funding,” Kiggans said, adding she hopes “the Senate comes through.”

Others are using resistance to a continuing resolution to bolster arguments to pass their spending bills. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), a moderate and a House Appropriations subcommittee chairman leading an appropriations bill focused on foreign policy, argued that Republicans should support his bill to speed up the cuts they want.

“We have to get folks to vote for this bill that have never voted for appropriations bills,” Diaz-Balart said on Fox News last month. “If this does not pass, then were left with a continuing resolution that funds the green policies, that doesn’t have abortion protections, that keeps funding all of these climate change envoys — all of these radical woke stuff continues to be funded unless we can pass this bill out of the House and then go to negotiations.”

Mychael Schnell contributed.

Tags appropriations Clay Higgins continuing resolution CR funding bills government funding Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy

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