By Lawrence Wilson and Joseph Lord
House Republicans handed Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) a legislative loss on Nov. 15 by blocking consideration of a spending bill just one day after approving a stopgap funding measure to keep the government open into next year.
Eighteen Republicans joined 207 Democrats in torpedoing a procedural vote on legislation that would fund the Commerce and Justice departments and other agencies for fiscal year 2024.
While fiscal hawks in the GOP conference continue to speak highly of Mr. Johnson, they insist that longstanding practices that deny individual members a voice in spending decisions be changed and reckless overspending checked.
The failed vote marks the third time the new speaker has been unable to move a spending bill through the House since taking office on Oct. 25 and continues the months-long intraparty conflict over how aggressively to pursue GOP objectives.
Mr. Johnson inherited a government budget mess upon his election. A 45-day stopgap funding bill was enacted on Sept. 30 because of Congress’s inability to agree on spending levels for the 2024 fiscal year. That temporary measure is set to expire on Nov. 17.
The House has continued to consider individual spending bills, so far passing seven of 12 that account for more than 75 percent of planned expenditures, although the Senate has approved just three. That makes it unlikely that the process will be completed before the deadline.
The speaker proposed a second stopgap measure, which would extend funding for various federal departments in two batches, ending on Jan. 19 or Feb. 2, 2024.
The measure was approved over the objection of 93 Republicans, many of whom were annoyed by the thought of continuing for another two months the 2023 spending levels and priorities enacted by Democrats.
The bill also extended the Farm Bill—a massive, five-year spending program that includes a number of food-related social welfare programs—which had expired in September.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) theorized that some Republicans may have voted against the Commerce bill partly as a protest over the extension of stopgap funding.
“I’m confident that, for some of those individuals, the [continuing spending resolution] was part of it,” Mr. Good told reporters. He added that some members, including himself, objected to the Commerce bill in its own right and would have voted against it in any case.
Idealism Versus Reality
The Commerce, Justice, and Science bill included nondefense discretionary spending of $52.4 billion, which was $23.5 billion below the Fiscal Year 2023 level and $32 billion less than what President Joe Biden had requested.
Despite that, some members objected that the bill wasn’t vetted through the Appropriations Committee and was presented with an attached measure dealing with Iran that members wouldn’t have been able to amend.
Some members objected to specific projects and programs that were to receive funding, inducing the construction of a new FBI headquarters.
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who voted for the bill, said the result pointed to the continued refusal of some Republicans to accept partial victories.
“I think it’s a fundamental unwillingness to accept the reality that with a narrow majority, nobody gets 100 percent of what they want,” Mr. Gallagher told The Epoch Times. “You have to push for the most conservative bill that can actually pass, which is not going to be the perfect conservative bill.”
Others, including Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), reject that thinking. After the vote, Mr. Roy took the floor to deliver a passionate speech, appealing to fellow Republicans to vote for their principles regardless of the consequences.
“The American people … have been watching from afar wondering when this body, the People’s House, will stand up in defense of the people who sent us here,” Mr. Roy said. “When are we going to stand up and stop the reckless spending bankrupting the country?
“Put everything we have got, all our political lives on the line and stand up for this country,” Mr. Roy pleaded. “Who cares if you lose your election? What does it matter if you are here if you don’t do something?”
Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Roy, along with many House Republicans, agree on the need for change in the way that decisions are made in Congress.
‘Completely Fed Up’
“I count myself among those who are completely fed up with the broken appropriations and budgeting process,” Mr. Gallagher said. As possible reforms, he listed switching to a two-year funding cycle in which six spending bills are considered each year and consolidating the appropriations and authorizing committees.
“That fundamental divide is at the source of everything,” he added.
Speaking of the practice of submitting bills under a “closed rule,” which prevents individual members from proposing amendments from the House floor, Mr. Roy said, “Such is the way things operate in the People’s House if we don’t police it every single day.”
He added that he and other junior members of the House would continue to fight for a more open legislative process.
Along with the bill funding the departments of Justice and Commerce, fiscal hawks also have blocked consideration of the measure to fund Transportation and Housing, and also one funding Financial Service and General Government operations.
The bills will be returned to their respective committees for further review before being presented to the entire House a second time.