Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is running short on viable options to get House Republicans some wins while averting a shutdown.
Outside the House, the Democratic-controlled Senate — with the help of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — has aimed to take the reins on a continuing resolution (CR), advancing a stopgap that Republicans say is dead on arrival in the House.
Inside the House, McCarthy faces roadblocks from multiple corners of his conference that will likely prevent the slim House majority from executing its own short-term funding bill. GOP leadership wants to pass its own stopgap with border measures in order to put themselves in a position to extract concessions from the Senate and White House.
McCarthy has said he would like to meet with President Biden on attaching border policy measures to a short-term funding extension. But with just three days until a government shutdown, the Speaker has not yet worked in earnest with Democrats on a deal to keep the government open.
“Negotiating with Democrats and negotiating with even some Senate Republicans can be problematic for the Speaker,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a House appropriator.
As Republicans work through those options, the House appears busy. Lawmakers are voting into the wee hours of the morning on amendments on four regular full-year appropriations bills.
But members acknowledge the chamber could be barreling toward another wall.
“Unless something dramatic happens today or tomorrow, there will likely be a couple-of-day or longer shutdown — very, very unfortunately, because it’s our responsibility to exercise and exhaust all options,” Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.) said.
After suffering some embarrassing setbacks last week, GOP leaders met demands from hard-liners to take action on full-year funding bills before working on any stopgap proposal. They agreed to demands to further cut some overall spending levels in the GOP bills as the shutdown ticked nearer.
“I want to see the appropriations bills. I want to use the appropriations process,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.).
None of those bills alone will avert a shutdown, as they are already opposed by the White House and will be promptly rejected by the Senate. But McCarthy and his allies hope that building goodwill with the conservatives will help rally them around a stopgap bill — which some Republicans resist calling a continuing resolution, since they would aim to change policies and cut some spending for its duration.
But there are big problems with that plan.
First, a handful of Republicans say they will not support McCarthy’s bid for a stopgap with border measures while the House works through appropriations bills — enough to likely block one in the slim House majority.
That crew includes Reps. Eli Crane (Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Andy Ogles (Tenn.), Tim Burchett (Tenn.), Dan Bishop (N.C.) and Rosendale.
“We’re gonna pass 12 appropriations bills before I will consider a CR,” Ogles said.
Second, members are not confident that all four spending bills that are up this week can actually pass the House — complicating the theory of building goodwill with the holdouts on a GOP-only stopgap.
An agriculture spending bill appears to be on particularly thin ice. Reps. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.), and Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.) are among the members opposed to the bill, in part because it includes a provision to nullify a Biden administration rule allowing the abortion pill mifepristone to be sold in retail pharmacies and by mail with prescriptions.
As the House trudges through the four spending bills, McCarthy this week is trying to frame holding out on a GOP-only short-term funding extension as siding with Biden on the border.
“I don’t understand where somebody would want to stand with President Biden on keeping an open border and not keep government open,” McCarthy said of the holdouts.
And some members remain optimistic that the holdouts could reverse course as the clock ticks closer to a shutdown.
“The timeframe is certainly shortening, but I think the sort of compelling arguments for some of these things are going to start becoming stronger as we get closer to the edge,” Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) said.
But McCarthy has also been kneecapped by McConnell’s willingness to support the Senate’s CR, which include measures that are nonstarters in the GOP-controlled House, such as aid to Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters over the weekend, McCarthy noted that one major difference between the debt limit fight and today’s spending fight is that over the summer, Senate Republicans were behind him as he passed a GOP-only bill and then negotiated concessions from the White House. He doesn’t have that this time.
“I think they’re just completely disconnected with what we’re working on in the House and what the American people want,” Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said of the Senate.
McCarthy told Republicans on Wednesday morning that he would not bring the Senate CR to the floor in its current form, according to GOP members.
“I don’t see the support in the House,” McCarthy later told reporters about the Senate plan.
The fear for House GOP members is that they will be forced to swallow large swaths of the Senate plan.
“I do think in the end, someone’s going to come over from the Senate, and we’re going to end up being forced to live with something that is far worse than our plan to resolve the issue,” Meuser said.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said he would support the Senate bill “if that is the only option.”
But Bacon and some other moderate Republicans have another break-glass option in the wings: Work with Democrats to force a vote on a bill crafted by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to get out of a government shutdown. The Republicans, though, have not yet taken the step to force that.
With each passing day, the chances of a shutdown increase — leading some members to expect one.
“Are we gonna shut down this weekend? I believe we will. And I think conventional wisdom should tell you that,” Womack said. “But you know, I always hold out a little bit of hope that maybe there’s some epiphany that happens and we get it done.”
Mychael Schnell and Aris Folley contributed.