“Clean” Continuing Resolution Spells Strain for Speaker

NRB | November 17, 2023 | Advocacy, Advocacy News

On Friday, Nov. 17, President Joe Biden signed the “staggered” stopgap funding bill that passed the House and the Senate earlier this week, marking the end—or a pause, at least—of “shutdown watch” in Washington.

But the continuing resolution (CR) advanced by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is merely a temporary solution, with two separate tranches of government funding now set to expire on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2, respectively. Johnson’s intent for the two-tiered approach, which many of his colleagues found confusing, was to prevent a pre-Christmas spending clash and pressure the Senate to negotiate with the House on appropriations bills. In theory, setting staggered deadlines in early 2024 would allow more time for consideration of individual bills—and dodge a scenario where jamming an omnibus through Congress before the end of the year is “necessary” to stave off a shutdown.

The “clean” CR, which includes no spending cuts or policy riders, failed to command Republican unity. More than 90 Republicans voted against the measure due to its lack of spending cuts, forcing Johnson to pass the vote under suspension with help from Democrats. Some conservative House members have expressed that they are willing to cut Johnson some slack due to his short runway to identify a budget solution, as Johnson has only just wrapped his third full week on the job.

Initially, Johnson had planned to immediately shepherd all remaining must-pass spending bills through the House before adjourning for Thanksgiving. Then, a group of disgruntled conservatives voted with Democrats to tank a procedural vote on one of those spending bills on Wednesday to express their disapproval of the CR, prompting the speaker to cancel remaining votes and send everyone home.

The House Republican conference beamed with relief and enthusiasm when Johnson was elected as speaker a few short weeks ago. Now, some of that support has turned to strain, with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) commenting last week, “The honeymoon might be shorter than we thought.” Johnson will be navigating not only a tense budget situation, but serious intra-party agitation as he works to meet the deadlines in his staggered CR.

After a grueling ten weeks in session, Hill staffers may be giving thanks for a stopgap that allows everyone to book their holiday travel and head home for Thanksgiving—but this week’s abrupt break no doubt points to a challenging start to 2024.

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