Democrats in Congress and the White House really need to understand how to negotiate with new House Speaker Mike Johnson. I offered some pessimistic thoughts at New York on what he might demand:
On November 17, barring action by Congress and President Joe Biden, nonessential functions of the federal government will shut down, as they nearly did last month. The bullet Washington narrowly avoided in October at the price of Kevin McCarthy’s Speakership will be fired again. And there’s no indication just yet that McCarthy’s successor, Mike Johnson, has a feasible plan to keep the government functioning, or that he even wants to develop one.
Up until now, Washington politicians probably took solace at the news that Johnson wanted to enact another short-term stopgap funding measure that would extend spending authority until January or even later. His right-wing backers seem okay with that — in theory, at least — though it’s not necessarily a solution since the Democrats who control the White House and the Senate would vastly prefer a measure taking care of appropriations until the end of the fiscal year next September and ruling out any additional shutdown threats in the interim.
But it’s important to understand that Johnson has not committed to the kind of “clean CR” — continuing resolution, as stopgap spending bills are known in congressional parlance — that was McCarthy’s fatal concession. He’s talking about demanding an across-the-board spending cut as a condition for keeping the federal government open. And he’s already shown in his ultraconfrontational gambit tying aid to Israel to a demagogic cut in IRS funding that he is even more prone than McCarthy was to placating the hard-right faction in the House GOP (of which he is a charter member).
The latest wrinkle the new Speaker has added to the stopgap spending-bill discussions is a bizarre idea that would immensely complicate matters, as Government Executive explains:
“Federal agencies could face an ongoing series of independent shutdown threats under a proposal put forward by House Republican leadership on Thursday, who pitched the idea with just more than two weeks until current funding expires.
“While details on the plan were not yet made clear, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said he was considering rolling out a ‘laddered CR,’ or continuing resolution, that would create multiple stopgap bills that fund different parts of the government and have different end dates. Rather than the normal tact of keeping all agencies afloat under one short-term spending bill, the measures would be more narrowly focused and set up unique deadlines for each bill.”
This approach most definitely does reflect the House Freedom Caucus’s mania for avoiding the comprehensive spending measures it associates with runaway “big government” in favor of passing the 12 individual appropriations bills covering the landscape of federal agencies. Trouble is, in a time of divided government and partisan appropriations, multiplying the number of bills on which highly divisive time-sensitive negotiations must take place from one to 12 is a recipe for gridlock and chaos. A “laddered CR” is most definitely a nonstarter for Democrats and probably many Senate Republicans. It’s alarming to hear Johnson talking about it just a couple of weeks before all hell breaks loose, and it makes you wonder if he even wants to prevent a government shutdown.