US House speaker’s plan to avoid shutdown gains some Democratic support

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‘Clean’ bill

Mr Johnson’s plan seems geared to find support from two warring Republican factions: hardliners who wanted different funding deadlines for different federal agencies and centrists who called for a “clean” vehicle without spending cuts or conservative policy riders that Democrats would reject.

His bill would extend funding for military construction, veterans benefits, transportation, housing, urban development, agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and energy and water programs through Jan 19. Funding for all other federal operations, including defence, would expire on Feb 2.

The bill is intended to pressure the House and Senate to agree on spending bills for fiscal 2024 by the assigned dates. Mr Johnson warned Democrats that House Republicans would impose a full-year CR for 2024 “with appropriate adjustments to meet our national security priorities” if Congress fails to reach agreement on full-year spending.

The approach quickly came under fire from the White House and members of both parties.

Among hardliners in opposition, Good was joined by Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Warren Davidson, Scott Perry, Andrew Clyde and Chip Roy. Indicted Republican George Santos also said he would not back it.

“I will not support a status quo that fails to acknowledge fiscal irresponsibility, and changes absolutely nothing while emboldening a do-nothing Senate and a fiscally illiterate President,” said Mr Perry, who chairs the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, on the X social media platform.

The White House over the weekend blasted the plan as chaotic, but there were also indications that it could provide a path forward for Congress, given Mr Johnson’s decision to assign defence spending to Feb 2. Democrats had worried that Republicans would put defence and other party priorities in the first tranche and then let the remaining programs shut down.

“This latest proposal is very much untested,” said White House spokesman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday, adding that they would watch lawmakers negotiations play out.

Benchmark of success

House Republicans are aiming for a Tuesday vote. But it is unclear whether their conference, which has spent the past 10 months at war with itself over spending and culture war issues, can muster the 217 votes needed to pass the measure without Democratic support, which many Republicans view as the benchmark of success.

Failure to hit that benchmark led to Mr McCarthy’s ouster, but some House Republicans suggested Mr Johnson deserved more time.

The brutal infighting among Republicans this year, including the party’s own rejection of three seasoned nominees for House speaker, coincides with falling federal revenues and mounting costs for interest, health and pension outlays.

Lawmakers are at odds over discretionary spending for fiscal 2024. Democrats and many Republicans want to stick to the US$1.59 trillion level that Mr Biden and Mr McCarthy set in their debt ceiling agreement earlier this year. Hardliners have pushed for a figure US$120 billion lower. In recent days, they have signalled a net willingness to compromise.

But the political fracas is focused on just a fraction of the total US budget, which also includes mandatory outlays for Social Security and Medicare. Total US spending topped US$6.1 trillion in fiscal 2023. REUTERS

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