US House Speaker Johnson floats two-step measure to avert gov’t shutdown


By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson unveiled a Republican stopgap spending measure on Saturday aimed at averting a government shutdown a week from now, but the measure quickly ran into opposition from lawmakers from both parties in Congress.

Unlike ordinary continuing resolutions, or “CRs,” that fund federal agencies for a specific period, the measure announced by Johnson would fund some parts of the government until Jan. 19 and others until Feb. 2. House Republicans hope to pass the measure on Tuesday.

“This two-step continuing resolution is a necessary bill to place House Republicans in the best position to fight for conservative victories,” Johnson said in a statement after announcing the plan to House Republicans in a conference call.

The House Republican stopgap contained no supplemental funding such as aid for Israel or Ukraine.

The House and Democratic-led Senate must agree on a spending vehicle that President Joe Biden can sign into law by Friday, or risk a fourth partial government shutdown in a decade that would close national parks, disrupt pay for as many as 4 million federal workers and disrupt a swath of activities from financial oversight to scientific research.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a release that the proposal was “just a recipe for more Republican chaos and more shutdowns.” She said “House Republicans are wasting precious time with an unserious proposal that has been panned by members of both parties.”

Johnson, the top Republican in Congress, unveiled his stopgap a day after Moody’s, the last major credit ratings agency to maintain a top “AAA” rating on the U.S. government, lowered its outlook on the nation’s credit to “negative” from “stable,” citing political polarization in Congress on spending as a danger to the nation’s fiscal health.

The Louisiana Republican appeared to be appealing to two warring House Republican factions: hardliners who wanted legislation with multiple end-dates; and centrists who had called for a “clean” stopgap measure free of spending cuts and conservative policy riders that Democrats reject.

The legislation would extend funding for military construction, veterans benefits, transportation, housing, urban development, agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and energy and water programs through Jan. 19. Funding for all other federal operations would expire on Feb. 2.

But the plan quickly came under fire from members of both parties.

“My opposition to the clean CR just announced by the Speaker to the @HouseGOP cannot be overstated,” Representative Chip Roy, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, said on the social media platform X.

“It’s a 100% clean. And I 100% oppose,” wrote Roy, who had called for the new measure to include spending cuts.

Democratic Senator Brian Schatz called Johnson’s measure “super convoluted,” adding that “all of this nonsense costs taxpayer money.”

“We are going to pass a clean short term CR. The only question is whether we do it stupidly and catastrophically or we do it like adults,” Schatz wrote on X.

A stopgap measure would give lawmakers more time to implement full-scale appropriations bills to fund the government through Sept. 30.

Johnson put Democrats on notice that failure to reach agreement on 2024 spending would prompt House Republicans to implement “a full-year CR with appropriate adjustments to meet our national security priorities.”

House Republican hardliners have been pushing to cut fiscal 2024 spending below the $1.59 trillion level that Biden and Johnson’s predecessor agreed in the May deal that averted default. But even that is a small slice of the overall federal budget, which also includes mandatory outlays for Social Security and Medicare, and topped $6.1 trillion in fiscal 2023.

Johnson, who won the speaker’s gavel less than three weeks ago, could put his own political future at risk if his current plan fails to win support for passage and he is forced to go with a standard CR that Democrats can accept.

His predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted from the job by eight Republican hardliners early last month, after he moved a bipartisan measure to avert a shutdown on Oct. 1, when fiscal 2024 began. McCarthy opted for the bipartisan route after hardliners blocked a Republican stopgap measure with features intended to appease them.

(Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Scott Malone, Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)

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