The Senate passed House Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) short-term spending plan late Wednesday night, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk before the midnight Friday deadline.
Biden’s signature will avert a shutdown possibility until January, giving Congress barely two months to complete the process of agreeing on twelve appropriations bills or, failing that, cobble together yet another funding extension.
The laddered continuing resolution (CR) extends funding for four appropriations titles until January 19, 2024, and the remaining eight, including for the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), until February 2, 2024.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) consented to an agreement between Senate leaders to speed the bill through the Senate in exchange for a vote on his amendment to cut one percent of discretionary spending from the bill.
That amendment stood no chance in a Senate in which both parties have shown little appetite to curb spending despite the country’s debt exceeding $33 trillion and continuing to rise.
Consistent with recent congressional sessions, a larger agreement on spending has eluded lawmakers. Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who was unable to move individual appropriations bills through his chamber before the deadline, consented to a continuing resolution before the end of the previous fiscal year on September 30, a decision which cost him his gavel.
Johnson, only three weeks into his speakership, surrendered to the inevitability of an extension of previous funding as well. While his CR garnered no more Republican support than McCarthy’s in September, conservatives appear willing to give him some grace, considering the little time he was dealt between his rise to the speakership and the deadline.
However, consider his short honeymoon ended.
Johnson’s approach passed the House 336-95, but only 127 Republicans supported it compared to a staggering 209 Democrats.
The spending levels and policies extended by the laddered CR were initially set in December 2022 by an omnibus spending package, a Beltway term for a huge package of twelve appropriations bills, which generally are not even worked through each chamber’s appropriations committees.
Large omnibus bills rob lawmakers of the opportunity to consider the contents of appropriations bills carefully, much less make suggestions and offer amendments. The end result is a single up or down vote with a government shutdown waiting in the wings.
That December 2022 omnibus — now once again extended until at least January 19, 2024 — was passed during a lame-duck session in which Democrats had lost the House weeks before in the November elections yet maintained control of the chamber until January.
That scheme by Democrats months before to punt the spending deadline until the lame-duck session, during which they would be unaccountable to voters, was transparent. But many Republicans, eager to avoid a shutdown, conceded.
Conservatives once again are left frustrated that the battle over government spending and priority policy issues like border security are being punted.
While the laddered CR concept was initially pushed by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) of the House Freedom Caucus, the Johnson product missed the point, according to conservatives.
“The whole purpose of the bifurcation was to say ‘isolate the chat,’ so we can have a full-throated debate on DHS without letting it get lumped in with DOD and other issues,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), a member of the caucus. Yet the Johnson CR lumps DOD and DHS funding together, tying border security to politically perilous issues like pay for servicemembers.
The Freedom Caucus took an official position against the bill before the House passed the legislation. The caucus requires the support of 80 percent of its membership to take an official position.
Its official statement against the bill said the laddered CR “contains no spending reductions, no border security, and not a single meaningful win for the American People.”
“Republicans must stop negotiating against ourselves over fears of what the Senate may do with the promise ‘roll over today and we’ll fight tomorrow.’”