The House on Tuesday passed a stopgap bill to prevent a government shutdown, sending the unconventional two-step continuing resolution to the Senate and marking the first major hurdle Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has cleared since winning the gavel.
The chamber approved the short-term funding measure in a 336-95 vote, days before Friday night’s shutdown deadline. Two Democrats — Reps. Jake Auchincloss (Mass.) and Mike Quigley (Ill.) — and 93 Republicans opposed the bill.
With conservatives opposed to the spending levels in the bill, Republican leaders leaned heavily on support from Democrats, who overwhelmingly backed the legislation despite strong reservations about the unusual two-part approach.
The bifurcated bill would extend funding at current levels for some agencies and programs until Jan. 19 and all others through Feb. 2. It would also extend the authorization of programs and authorities in the farm bill until Sept. 30.
The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it has support from both party leaders. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said he will try to pass the continuing resolution quickly, highlighting the bipartisan desire to avert a shutdown ahead of next week’s Thanksgiving holiday.
“We would like to do it as soon as possible,” Schumer told reporters. “Both McConnell and I want to avoid a shutdown, so getting this done obviously before Friday at midnight — we know the Senate has lots of arcane rules. But McConnell and I are going to work together, we talked about this yesterday, to get it done as quickly as possible.”
Passage of the bill marks an early legislative achievement for Johnson, who was elected to the Speakership less than a month ago after three weeks of standstill in the House following former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) removal from the role.
That ouster was caused in large part by McCarthy’s decision to put a “clean” continuing resolution on the floor and pass it with help from Democrats — similar to Johnson’s course of action this week.
But hard-line conservatives said they would give Johnson some breathing room this time around — despite opposing his stopgap bill — citing his nascent Speakership.
“He’s had two weeks to pass it; his predecessor had since January and then he jammed us up against the Sept. 30 deadline,” said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy.
Trouble, nonetheless, looms for Johnson and his fractious House GOP conference as they stare down two funding deadlines and try to pass their remaining five appropriations bills, which have run into trouble on the floor and in committee.
Lawmakers are also eager to button up aid for Israel, and Johnson has said he wants to tackle Ukraine funding next, which has become a hot-button issue among Republicans.
“I’ve been drinking from Niagara Falls for the last three weeks,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday. “This will allow everybody to go home for a couple of days for Thanksgiving, everybody cool off — members have been here for, as [House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.)] said, for 10 weeks, this place is a pressure cooker. And so I think everybody can go home, we can come back, reset, we’re gonna get our group together, we’re gonna map out that plan to fight for those principles.”
Johnson rolled out his two-step stopgap funding proposal Saturday, capping off days of anticipation regarding how the newly minted Speaker would address the tall task of funding the government and averting a shutdown.
The announcement followed meetings between Johnson and Republicans, during which the Speaker took stock of different ideas and strategies.
Johnson ultimately landed on the two-step, or “laddered,” continuing resolution, an atypical approach to funding the government that was favored by hard-line conservatives as a way to avoid an end-of-year omnibus spending bill, which is loathed by Republicans.
The legislation will extend funding at current levels until Jan. 19 for programs and agencies under four appropriations bills: Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration; Energy and Water Development; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. Funding for the remaining eight would be extended at current levels through Feb. 2.
But in a break with the right flank, Johnson’s proposal did not include any conservative policy riders or spending cuts, which hard-liners have pushed for throughout the appropriations process this year. Those omissions sparked fierce opposition from hard-liners and led the conservative House Freedom Caucus to take an official position against the legislation.
“The House Freedom Caucus opposes the proposed ‘clean’ Continuing Resolution as it contains no spending reductions, no border security, and not a single meaningful win for the American people,” the group wrote in a statement.
The exclusion of spending cuts and right-wing policy proposals, however, bought some good faith with Democrats. The top three House Democrats announced shortly before the vote that they would back Johnson’s proposal.
“House Democrats have repeatedly articulated that any continuing resolution must be set at the fiscal year 2023 spending level, be devoid of harmful cuts and free of extreme right-wing policy riders. The continuing resolution before the House today meets that criteria and we will support it,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) wrote in a statement.
Democrats, however, made clear earlier in the week that they would vote against the rule governing debate on the bill, while conservatives also threatened to buck their party and oppose advancing the measure.
Those converging dynamics led House GOP leaders to consider the stopgap bill under suspension of the rules, a fast-track process that avoids having to pass a rule and requires a two-thirds majority for final passage.
That decision, though, sparked even more opposition among hard-liners. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said it was a “bad idea” to move the bill under suspension.
“If it passes, it passes, but there’s always consequences beyond that,” he added, declining to elaborate further.
Despite supporting it in large numbers, Democrats were not completely pleased with Johnson’s proposal. Top lawmakers criticized the two-step approach — expressing concerns it could lead to more shutdowns — and they denounced the absence of funding for Israel and Ukraine, which President Biden included in a supplemental request in October.
“A continuing resolution is a bridge to a final agreement. It should be judged on how it helps facilitate our goal, which is to update the spending levels for full-year bills and the full-year bill for 2024,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, on the House floor. “A so-called, quote, laddered bill, makes it harder to reach a final agreement. Why? It doubles the likelihood of future shutdowns. And in a time of global crisis, we should promote stability and not chaos.”
She later said Congress had “abdicated a moral responsibility to Israel, to Ukraine.”
With the continuing resolution now in the rearview mirror, the House will shift its attention to meeting the next spending deadline — and Johnson is vowing to do it through regular order, ruling out any future short-term spending bills.
“I hate CRs as much as everyone does. It is not the way you’re supposed to do it,” Johnson said Tuesday morning on CNBC. “And we’re going to get right back to the regular budgeting process.”
“We’re not going to do this again,” he added. “We’re not doing this under my leadership.”
That plan is sure to make for a busy — and likely chaotic — next two months that could bring Congress to the brink of another shutdown. House Republicans have been forced to punt on a handful of appropriations bills because of disagreements within the conference.
Johnson, however, appears up for the task as he settles into his new role.
“Not much of a honeymoon in this job,” he told CNBC. “The crises are too great.”
Emily Brooks contributed.