Spending Deals Still Works in Progress as Days to Shutdown Dwindle

September 19, 2023 by Dan McCue
Spending Deals Still Works in Progress as Days to Shutdown Dwindle

WASHINGTON — It was just a glimpse, but it nevertheless seemed to speak volumes.

An hour earlier, House Republican leaders had spiked a planned procedural vote on a proposed stopgap spending plan intended to keep the lights on and the government working as lawmakers continue to work toward a federal budget for next week.

Moments later, the office of House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., sent an email blast to members and reporters alike, announcing the House GOP leadership had made changes to Tuesday’s floor schedule. 

Excised from the plan for the day was a scheduled mid-afternoon vote on the rule to allow the Republicans’ continuing resolution to move forward.

The decision was a clear signal that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the House’s Republican leadership had suffered yet another setback in their bid to pass the stopgap measure Democrats loathe along partisan lines.

Yet here was McCarthy, spotted from a staircase near the rotunda, striding confidently toward a lunch-hour meeting with members of his conference.

Moving swiftly, surrounded by a contingent of staffers and security, McCarthy barely acknowledged the few reporters who had intercepted him in the House basement, and continued on into the waiting conference room.

Once inside, he began shaking the hands of waiting members and smiled broadly as one even rose to take him in an embrace.

If this was “losing,” one said to themselves as one of McCarthy’s aides approached, “then losing isn’t what it used to be; either that, or the speaker has one of the best ‘What, me worry?’ faces in the business.”

The one thing that’s certain is that the speaker is in what many observers believe is the third fight for his political life in less than a year — the first being his 15-round confirmation hearing, the second being his negotiation with the White House, and now this, a budget impasse in what appears to be a now bitterly divided conference.

For his part, McCarthy is giving every appearance that he’s determined to win.

“It’s a good thing I love a challenge because every day is gonna be a challenge,” he said on Monday.

“I’ve got a long week [ahead of me],” he added.

Later, in a sign of how wearing the frustration has become, he said, “If you’re not willing to pass appropriation bills, and you’re not willing to pass a continuing resolution to allow you to pass the rest of the appropriation bills and you don’t want an omnibus, I don’t quite know what you want. So, I mean, we just have to get together, figure it out and move forward.”

On Tuesday, he said in passing, “If you think I’m quitting, it’s never going to happen.”

For all his determination, however, Tuesday wasn’t a very good day.

When asked about the postponement of the rule vote, he assured the reporters who are a constant presence outside his office that he was merely, “recircling it.”

“We have people talking,” he said.

The current continuing resolution was drafted by members of the House Freedom Caucus and the Main Street Caucus and would extend government funding until Oct. 31, thereby averting an imminent government shutdown.

However, in addition to extending the funding of the government, the resolution would also cut discretionary spending by 8% — and do so nearly across the board, with the exceptions being spending by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

It also contains a number of provisions no Democrat will vote for, and despite its tilt toward partisan Republican priorities, at least a dozen GOP members say they won’t vote for it because it doesn’t go far enough.

And so far, at least, there is no sign the GOP holdouts are softening in their positions.

That became abundantly clear Tuesday afternoon when five Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the rule to advance the Defense appropriations bill.

In the end, the final vote on the procedural measure was 212-214. Its failure means the spending package will not be debated on the House floor, let alone be put up for a vote.

The first Republicans voting against the measure were Reps. Andy Biggs, of Arizona, Dan Bishop, of North Carolina, Ken Buck, of Colorado, Ralph Norman, of South Carolina, and Matt Rosendale, of Montana.

This past weekend, McCarthy had promised to bring the Defense bill to the floor for a vote this week, “win or lose.”

In doing so, he said the outcome would “show the American public who’s for the Department of Defense, who’s for our military … and who’s for making sure we can take the wokeism out.”

But the threat evidently didn’t take.

Shortly after 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Clark sent out another email blast.

“The House has adjourned for the day. No further votes are expected,” she wrote, adding, “Members are advised that further votes are expected in the House this week and possibly into the weekend. Members are advised to keep their schedules flexible.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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