Johnson Lays Out Ambitious Agenda for House
WASHINGTON — Newly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has ambitions that include passing all eight remaining fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills by mid-November, passing the House version of the farm bill two weeks later, and laying the groundwork in January to ensure next year’s budget process is well in hand by spring.
At least that’s the takeaway from a memo he distributed to his fellow House Republican Conference members on Monday, two full days before he was elected speaker.
At the time, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., was still a day away from emerging as the party’s speaker designee after a series of secret ballots on Tuesday, and if Emmer hadn’t withdrawn hours later due to lack of sufficient support, the memo might have meant little.
Now, it looks to be the framework of congressional Republicans’ lives from now through the midterms.
“We all agree the urgency of this hour demands that the next speaker of the House must present a specific plan for bold, decisive action that will: engage our members in productive work as one successful team; advance our key principles and legislative priorities; and allow us to demonstrate good governance,” Johnson wrote.
“Governing well will ensure that we meet the unprecedented challenges of today and expand our majority next year,” he added.
On Thursday, the House fulfilled the first part of his plan, passing a controversial fiscal year 2024 Energy and Water Development Funding bill the White House has already promised to veto.
Next week, Johnson wants to see the passage of the fiscal year funding bills for the legislative branch, Departments of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency, and, for the work on the bills to continue through the week of Nov. 13, with the last bill being considered the funding for the Departments of Labor, Agriculture and Health and Human Services.
“This is an ambitious schedule,” Johnson wrote, “but if our speaker can work across the conference to unify our membership and build consensus, we can achieve our necessary objectives.”
But that’s not all he proposed accomplishing in October and November. Johnson also said the new speaker should begin negotiating appropriations with the White House and Senate almost immediately, while also engaging in conference negotiations with the Senate over the fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act.
Johnson continued by saying the chamber should also begin negotiations on the FAA reauthorization “as soon as the Senate passes it,” presumably some time in the next four weeks.
“We should also create a new working group to address member concerns with the Agriculture, rural development and Food and Drug Administration appropriation bills,” he wrote.
“In the interest of time,” Johnson said, he also wants to move the most controversial of the appropriations bills covering “Labor, HHS, Education and Commerce, Justice and Science” right from the subcommittee where they now sit to the House Rules Committee.
This would allow them to bypass a markup by the full House Appropriations Committee.
Johnson described each of these actions as a “return to legislating” and an opportunity to get back to “effectively messaging on our top issues and priorities.”
To get to all of this, Johnson will have to avoid a partial government shutdown, which would begin on Nov. 17 if the chamber can’t pass another continuing resolution.
Johnson’s plan calls for extending government funding to either mid-January or mid-April, “depending on what can obtain conference consensus” and to ensure “the Senate cannot jam the House with a Christmas omnibus” spending bill.
Philip A. Wallach, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Why Congress” a book that looks at how Congress became as dysfunctional as it is, and how it might be restored, took a look at Johnson’s schedule and apologetically admitted he didn’t quite know what to make of it.
“I assume it’s unrealistic,” he said, but added that Johnson is likely to get some slack from the party’s right wing “now that they have treated his selection as Speaker as a big victory.”
“But who knows how long that will last?” Wallach said.
Asked if that meant he believed Johnson’s honeymoon as Speaker could end as quickly as it has started, the author and fellow said, “Pushback can come at any time.”
That’s especially true “given that a significant chunk of his conference believes that any deal with Democrats is a betrayal.”
“Doing deals with Democrats is the only way to pass must-pass legislation right now,” Wallach said. “So the GOP hasn’t really solved any of the underlying issues that supposedly led to McCarthy’s ouster.”
The new speaker goes on in his memo to propose that the majority leader make a number of modifications to the House schedule for next year “provided there is consensus within the conference.”
From January through April, Johnson said, the conference should continue to negotiate FY2024 appropriations while also building a consensus regarding 2025 budget levels.
This period would culminate, he said, in the passage of a budget resolution.
Between May and July, Johnson said, the House should complete consideration of all fiscal year 2025 spending bills as well as funding for the Water Resources Development Act and the fiscal year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act.
Johnson said he believes the chamber should not break for its annual summer district work period unless all 12 of next year’s appropriations bills have passed the House.
If they do, the plan is to wrap up negotiations with the White House and Senate before the next fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
“We all understand that our next speaker must be prepared to negotiate from a position of strength with the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House,” likely not even imagining at the time of writing that he’d actually get the job.
“The only way to secure that position is for the House to have passed all 12 of our appropriations measures,” he wrote. “I am confident we can work together to accomplish that objective quickly, in a manner that delivers on our principled commitments to rein in wasteful spending, and put our country back on a path to fiscal responsibility.
“It will be challenging work, but we can and will do it,” Johnson said.