Speaker Johnson insists he’s sticking to budget deal but announces no plan to stop partial shutdown
Jan 12, 2024, 10:43 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Mike Johnson insisted Friday he is sticking with the bipartisan spending deal he struck with the other congressional leaders, but offered no clear path for overcoming hard-right opposition to prevent a partial government shutdown next week.
Johnson emerged from days of testy meetings behind closed doors at the Capitol to read a terse statement. Just months on the job, the new speaker is trying to set the record straight that he will not renege on the budget deal he made earlier this week. But in his first big test as the new leader, he has yet to show how he will quell the revolt from his right flank that ousted his predecessor.
“Our top-line agreement remains,” Johnson, R-La., said, referring to the budget accord reached Jan. 7.
“We are getting our next steps together, and we are working toward a robust appropriations process,” he said. “So stay tuned for all that.”
It’s the same intractable political dilemma that led a core group of right-flank Republicans to boot Rep. Kevin McCarthy from the speaker’s office last year as they revolted against the deal he struck with the other congressional leaders and that President Joe Biden signed into law.
Lawmakers during the first work week of the new year are furious that, after spending much of 2023 watching hard-right Republicans fight the leaders, they are quickly careening toward another crisis with just a week to go before the Jan. 19 deadline to fund parts of the government or risk a shutdown yet again.
As some Republicans from the Freedom Caucus again raise the threat of a motion to oust the speaker over the deal, other Republicans are furious they are starting 2024 with the same problems of governing.
In the morning before Johnson made his statement, he met with about two dozen House Republicans, more of them centrist-leaning voices, urging him not to go back on his word and stick with the deal.
The centrists assured Johnson they have his back.
“I just can’t imagine the House wants to relive the madness,” said Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., who had helped McCarthy negotiate the initial agreement with Biden and the other leaders.
“We’re here to bolster him up,” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.
“This concept of trying to break a deal that was negotiated, it’s a foreign concept,” said Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fla. “What you would be asking is for the speaker to basically break his word and lie. That’s just something you can’t ask him to do.”
Since Congress resumed from the holiday break, Johnson has been holed up in his office at the Capitol receiving a steady stream of Republican lawmakers trying to force his hand.
Just two days into the workweek, the House hit a crisis Wednesday when hard-right Republicans forced the chamber to a standstill. They voted against a routine procedural rules package as a way to demand the speaker’s attention.
On the House floor, Johnson has been seen several times surrounded by Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good, R-Va., Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and others, some in animated finger-pointed discussions with him.
They are pressing Johnson to refuse the deal, with its $1.66 trillion in spending for the year, and to instead consider a temporary measure that would keep the government open but force 1% across-the-board cuts that are required to kick in if the broader package falls apart.
The hard-right flank is also insisting that new immigration policies be included, which they say would stop the record flow of migrants at the U.S-Mexico border.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said in floor remarks that Republicans should “shut the government down until you shut the border down.”
But by Friday it was more centrist lawmakers making their way to Johnson’s office, many of them who serve on the appropriations panels writing the spending bills, urging him to hold firm to the deal he struck.
Some have suggested that Johnson should consider trying to pass a temporary measure that would fund the government for several more weeks, into March.
Biden signed the spending framework into law as part of a deal he struck last spring with McCarthy. It was agreed to by the other congressional leaders from both parties and approved by the House and Senate as part of an effort to raise the nation’s debt limit to avert a federal default.
In the time since, the congressional leaders have been working to devise the topline spending numbers. McCarthy could never deliver on the final numbers before he was ousted after reaching across the aisle to pass a temporary measure in September and prevent a shutdown at that time.
Johnson and the other leaders Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate picked up where they left off and reached atopline deal at the start of the year that the speaker is now trying to have approved.
Associated Press writer Stephen Groves contributed to this report.