House Speaker Mike Johnson is proposing a two-step funding approach to keep the government open past November 17 and avert a shutdown. The plan sets separate deadlines for different agencies while avoiding controversial policy add-ons.
With only days left before current funding expires, Johnson outlined his strategy in a conference call with House Republicans on Saturday. The “laddered” continuing resolution (CR) aims to bridge partisan divides and secure passage in the narrowly divided Congress.
Johnson described the bill as “necessary” to enable further negotiations and avoid a disruptive shutdown. The stopgap CR would provide more time to finalize FY2023 appropriations while sidestepping hot-button issues.
The Legislation: Two-Week Funding Extensions
Typically, Congress passes short-term CRs maintaining current spending levels to prevent shutdowns. Johnson is proposing a different approach with two separate deadlines.
The legislative text, obtained by ABC News, shows two funding extensions two weeks apart. Certain agencies and programs would get funding until January 19. Others would be covered until February 2.
The two-phase strategy aims to separate debatable issues from must-pass appropriations. Johnson suggested this gives Republicans greater leverage in upcoming talks.
With limited time remaining, the House may vote on the CR proposal on Tuesday. This pressurizes the Senate to act before November 17 to keep government services running.
Avoiding Policy Clashes
In a statement, Johnson said the bill places Republicans “in the best position to fight for fiscal responsibility, oversight over Ukraine aid, and meaningful policy changes at our Southern border.”
But the CR itself avoids clashes over immigration, defense spending and other partisan issues. Controversial provisions could have doomed the legislation in the closely divided Congress.
The “clean” CR funds government at fiscal 2022 levels set before Democrats lost House control. Democratic leaders insisted Republicans pass this baseline funding without add-ons.
The two-phase approach grants more time for separate votes on border security, Ukraine aid and other priorities. These debates no longer threaten imminent shutdown, though some conservatives are dissatisfied.
Johnson Taking Balanced Approach
As a new speaker with a slim GOP majority, Johnson must balance various factions. Hardline demands from the right flank previously obstructed legislation under Kevin McCarthy.
Johnson has been speaker for just a few weeks. In pitching the CR plan, he noted he didn’t create the current challenges. But his balanced approach aims to govern responsibly.
Despite unrest on the right, the CR may draw broader Republican backing. It denies Democrats attack lines that the GOP is disregarding governance duties.
Democrats could still highlight the lack of full-year appropriations under Republican control. But government services would continue, denying them shutdown rhetoric.
Farm Bill Extension, Potential Opposition
Alongside temporary funding, the CR package includes a one-year Farm Bill extension. This averts another dispute complicating appropriations.
But some conservatives remain unhappy with maintaining existing spending levels. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas strongly criticized the “clean” CR, signaling potential opposition.
Roy and a handful of others may vote no. But GOP leaders likely have the votes for passage with limited far-right defections. Most Republicans wish to avoid both shutdown and fiscal brinksmanship.
While the right protests spending policies, the CR strategy puts this fight off until February. Additional time raises hopes for a consolidated spending deal.
Upcoming Votes on Israel, IRS Funding
Looking beyond the CR, Johnson wants to hold votes on Republican priorities like Israel aid and IRS funding. The temporary funding schedule enables these standalone policy debates.
House Republicans recently passed $14.3 billion in assistance for Israel, offset by cuts elsewhere. But the White House and Senate Democrats oppose the IRS reductions attached to it.
By delinking these issues from the CR, Johnson can tout GOP policy positions without risking a damaging shutdown scenario. The House-passed measures still face tough prospects in the Senate.
But framing debates through separate votes allows Republicans to sharpen contrasts with Democrats’ stances. Messaging and positioning take priority over immediate policy changes.
Countdown to November 17 Deadline
With the House out until Monday, time is running short to finalize a funding deal. But Johnson’s CR plan provides a path to thread the needle.
It avoids disruptive partisan amendments while granting Republicans additional negotiating power. The two-week flexibility aims to improve prospects for a final FY2023 spending agreement.
Congress has become accustomed to shutdown standoffs and 11th-hour deals. This CR seeks to short-circuit those high-stakes showdowns. Lawmakers on both sides wish to avoid blame for hampering government services.
By offering Democrats a clean CR and Republicans potential future leverage, Johnson’s approach balances competing incentives. While high-risk, it may break the shutdown cycle long enough to negotiate full appropriations.
With days left before lights out on November 17, the speaker is working to wrangle a fractious GOP caucus. His balancing act faces immediate judgment. But if Johnson keeps the government open, it offers hope for stabilizing leadership.