". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Congress Narrowly Escapes the Snow and Budget Storms

January 19, 2024

With a wintry mix headed toward Washington, Congress decided to plow through something else Thursday: its differences on the federal budget. Before the first flakes fell in D.C., the House and Senate raced to avert a shutdown — passing a temporary spending bill to keep the government’s lights on for six more weeks. While the move buys the two chambers until early March on appropriations, it certainly wasn’t the solution everyone wanted. But, as one congressman pointed out, it’s better than the alternative: a rushed and bloated omnibus.

“While a CR [continuing resolution] is never a good thing to do,” Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Wednesday’s “Washington Watch,” it does “keep [us] from doing something worse. … And that’s why I think we have to look at it that way.” Because a “big omnibus,” he argued, is “what the Democrats want.”

For Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), the outcome was a frustrating continuation of the divided caucus he’d inherited. Like other Republicans, the new leader thought staggering the funding deadlines would make a government shutdown less likely. But not only did he have a fractured party to deal with, he also had an unmovable Democratic majority in the Senate, which has, thus far, not passed a single appropriations bill of its own.

“Mike, as you know, he’s put in a very difficult position on this,” the Alabama congressman reiterated. “We’ve got all the Democrats lined up against us. You’ve got the Senate controlled by [Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer, you’ve got the White House, and then we’ve got the slimmest majority that the Republicans [have] ever had in the history of this country. And so the goal … is to try to buy a little time to keep from doing an omnibus.”

With help from Democrats, both the Senate (77-18) and House (314-108) kicked the spending grenade into early March, giving Congress a handful of weeks to sort out a slew of contentious budgets. Was it disappointing not to meet Johnson’s reasonable deadline? Absolutely, Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) told reporters. But then, “I haven’t seen the solution come forward from anybody,” he admitted.

Oklahoma Congressman Kevin Hern (R) lamented the necessity of the CR — not only for “spend[ing] at the previous levels” — but also because “the DEI issues, the abortion travel issues, all these things are in these continuing resolutions. That’s why it’s so important that we actually get our appropriation bills done,” he insisted on “Washington Watch” Thursday. “... Ever since I’ve been here — for almost six years — we’ve talked about regular order” and never accomplished it.

As for this being the new speaker’s fault, Hern shook his head. “The analogy I like to use is that Speaker Johnson was brought in at the two-minute warning — and not in the first half, but in the second half — and asked to win the game or at least keep it [going],” he told Perkins. “So, we’re in overtime. … [W]e’re continuing, but we want to win the game. And winning the game is really getting our budget done on time or early and getting the appropriations cycle back on time or early, and do that with the [goal] that we don’t go home until we do. The American people are sick and tired of these continuing resolutions.”

Perkins agreed. “March has to be a red line,” he urged, “because we had a CR before Christmas, which I supported, because I’ve seen those omnibuses … where we’ve had Congress’s back up [against the wall at] the Christmas break. But … [w]e’re continuing to kick the can down the road to March.” As he said, not all of the blame lays at the House’s bitterly divided feet. “The House has passed seven of the 12 appropriations bills,” he explained. And while there are five more to hash out, “the Senate has to act,” he insisted.

Exactly, Hern nodded. All of the attention has been on the House, and yet the House, he pointed out, “worked fervently all through last year [and] got seven appropriation bills passed. .... That represented some 81% of government spending.” What has the Senate passed? Nothing. So “we’ve now got to come together, work with our Democrat colleagues on the appropriation bills, and get those done between March 1st and March 8th. … The only thing that prevents us from hitting those deadlines is us.”

That’s the problem with Congress, Hern said. “We don’t have any muscle memory of actually doing these [budgets in regular order]. If we actually did these budgets on time and the appropriations on time, we would have the muscle memory and the ability to do it.” But it’s been so long since it’s been done the way the Founders intended, Perkins explained, “many people here have never seen that process work as it should.”

In the meantime, the threat of another speaker fight looms ominously over Mike Johnson’s head. Hard-line conservatives have already threatened to throw the House back into chaos if this battle isn’t resolved to their liking. “If things continue to go the way they’re going, do I think that’s a possible outcome? Absolutely,” Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) told reporters after the vote.

Others, like Aderholt, can’t believe anyone would think another member could do better under the circumstances. “Like I said,” he reiterated, “… anybody that knows Mike Johnson — I know you know Mike Johnson — you know he is not a big spender,” he told Perkins. “And he is fighting as hard as he can. But it’s like he’s got one hand tied behind his back fighting … not only the president, but also the Senate. And then with the House margins, it’s just difficult.”

The bottom line, Perkins said, “is that there’s not unity among Republicans. That’s one of the things that’s really needed to find a way forward. … [They’ve] got to find a way to come together.”

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.