The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to prevent a government shutdown after the new Republican president Mike Johnson was forced to turn to Democrats when far-right conservatives revolted against his plan.
The bipartisan result – 336-95 with 93 Republicans voting no – showed Johnson’s willingness to leave his right-wing Republicans behind and work with Democrats to temporarily keep the government running – the same political decision that cost the last President of the House, Kevin McCarthy, his work just a few weeks ago.
This time, Johnson of Louisiana seemed on track for a temporarily better result. His approach, which the Senate is expected to approve by the end of the week, effectively pushes back the final showdown over government funding until the new year.
“Ensuring that government remains in operation is a matter of conscience for all of us. We owe it to the American people,” Johnson said earlier Tuesday during a news conference at the Capitol.
The new Republican leader faced the same political problem that led to McCarthy’s ouster — angry, frustrated far-right Republican lawmakers rejected his approach, demanded budget cuts and voted against the plan. Rather than the applause and handshakes that usually follow the passage of a bill, several radical conservatives animatedly confronted the speaker as they left the room.
Without sufficient support from him Republican majority, Johnson had no choice but to rely on Democrats to secure passage and keep the federal government running. Shortly before Tuesday night’s vote, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives issued a joint statement saying the package met all of their demands and that they would support it.
Johnson’s proposal puts forward a unique – critics say bizarre – system two-part process which temporarily funds some federal agencies until January 19 and others until February 2. This is a continuing resolution, or CR, which comes without any of the deep cuts conservatives have demanded all year. It also ignores President Joe Biden’s request to almost 106 billion dollars for Ukraine, Israel, border security and other additional funds.
“We are not going to surrender,” Johnson assured after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans Tuesday morning, vowing that he would not support another stopgap. “But you have to choose the fights you can win.”
Johnson, who announced his support for Donald Trump on Tuesday as a Republican presidential candidate, he took to the airwaves to sell his approach and met privately Monday night with the conservative Freedom Caucus.
Johnson says the innovative approach would allow House Republicans to “get into the fight” for deeper spending cuts in the new year, but many Republicans are skeptical of a better outcome in January.
The House Freedom Caucus announced its opposition, securing dozens of votes against the plan.
“I think it’s a very big mistake,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a member of the far-right group of lawmakers.
“That’s wrong,” said Rep. Andy Ogles, R-Tenn.
That left Johnson with few options other than skipping what is typically a party-only procedural vote and relying on another process that requires a two-thirds agreement with Democrats to pass.
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, in a letter to colleagues, noted that the GOP package met Democrats’ demands to maintain funding at current levels, without deep cuts or divisive Republican policy priorities.
“Extremist MAGA Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they cannot govern without House Democrats,” Jeffries said on NPR. “This will be the case this week to avoid a government shutdown.”
Securing bipartisan approval for a continuing resolution is the same process that led McCarthy to extreme right flank to oust him in October, days after the September 30 vote to avoid a federal shutdown. For now, Johnson appears to be enjoying a political honeymoon during one of his first big tests on the job.
“Look, we’re going to trust the speaker’s gesture here,” Rep. Drew said. FergusonR-Ga.
But Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., a McCarthy ally who opposed his ouster, said Johnson should be held to the same standards. “What’s the point of throwing out a speaker if nothing changes?” The only way to ensure that real change occurs is to ensure that the red line remains the same for each stakeholder.
The Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority, has signaled a willingness to accept Johnson’s plan before Friday’s deadline to fund the government.
Republican leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell called the House package a “solution” and said he expected it to pass Congress with bipartisan support.
“It’s nice to see us working together to avoid a government shutdown,” he said.
But McConnell, R-Ky., noted that Congress there is still work to be done towards Biden’s request to provide US military aid for Ukraine And Israel and for other needs. Senators are trying to craft a separate plan to fund U.S. supplies for overseas wars and to bolster border security, but it remains a work in progress.
If approved, passage of the continuing resolution would be a far from triumphant capstone for the GOP’s first year in the House in the majority. Republicans worked tirelessly to reduce federal government spending, but found that their own Republican colleagues were reluctant to align with more conservative priorities. Two of the Republican bills collapsed last week following a revolt by moderates.
Instead, Republicans find themselves funding the government essentially on autopilot at levels that were bipartisanly set at the end of 2022, when Democrats controlled Congress but the two parties came together to agree on budgetary conditions.
All that could change in the new year, when 1% cuts across all departments would be triggered if Congress fails to agree to new budget terms and pass traditional appropriations bills to fund the government. ‘here spring.
The automatic 1% cuts, which would take effect in April, are scorned on all sides: Republicans say they are not enough, Democrats say they are too harsh and many lawmakers favor increasing defense funds. But they are part of the debt deal McCarthy and Biden hit earlier this year. The idea was to push Congress to do better.
The legislation also extends Farm Bill programs through September, the end of the current fiscal year. The addition was a significant victory for some farm state lawmakers. Rep. Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, for example, warned that without the extension, milk prices would have skyrocketed and hurt producers in his home state.
“The Farm Bill extension was the biggest sweetener for me,” Pocan said.