In the midst of mounting frustration as Congress races towards a possible government shutdown on October 1, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) finds himself in a precarious position. He must navigate the delicate balance between moderate Republicans, who fear that a shutdown might jeopardize their political futures, and conservative hardliners who are poised to challenge his leadership unless the House passes spending cuts that face insurmountable odds in the Senate.
As one GOP lawmaker candidly put it, “It’s a worse dynamic in conference than January,” revealing the challenging atmosphere within the Republican caucus.
During a heated conference meeting held on a Friday evening, McCarthy presented his members with four choices:
- Pass a GOP-led spending stopgap.
- Dare Democrats” to vote against a short-term bill that maintains current funding levels but includes provisions for disaster relief.
- “Accept the Senate bill that includes Ukraine funding” (McCarthy later expressed on Twitter that the Senate bill was a non-starter.)
- Face the ominous specter of a government shutdown.
Leadership conveyed to members that they are canceling the recess to prioritize the passage of the remaining appropriations bills.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has publicly clashed with McCarthy in recent days, continues to wield the threat of a motion to vacate over the speaker’s head. He maintains that the House should pass individual spending bills instead of merely “kicking the can down the road.”
After repeated unsuccessful attempts to pass a stopgap that bundled spending cuts and border security provisions, McCarthy broached the idea of a “clean stopgap” on Friday evening. He mused, “I think if we had a clean [stopgap] without Ukraine on it, we could probably be able to move that through. I think if the Senate puts Ukraine on there and focuses Ukraine over America, I think that could cause real problems.”
Additionally, there is consideration of a one- or two-week stopgap, with some conservatives indicating their support, now that there exists a defined schedule for finalizing work on appropriations bills.
Moderate Republicans have explored procedural options to force a vote on a bill with the potential to pass both chambers. Their rationale is that Republicans are likely to shoulder the blame for a government shutdown, which could imperil the majority.
Among the discussed possibilities is a short-term bill that maintains current funding levels but incorporates language concerning border security.
However, as one Republican lawmaker disclosed to Axios, “Senate GOP is saying border security doesn’t have the votes in a CR.”
With both chambers facing a tight deadline to fund the government, the prospects of both a government shutdown and a motion to vacate loom large.
House Republicans have grappled with advancing individual spending bills on the floor, despite their awareness that such legislation stands no chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate due to lower spending levels. This struggle has led some lawmakers to fret that their inability to pass a stopgap has diminished their bargaining power in negotiations with the Senate to secure conservative victories.
The situation is fluid, but the looming October 1 deadline heightens the stakes. As McCarthy treads this perilous path, the fate of government funding and the resilience of his leadership position hang precariously in the balance.
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