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


Despite Some Last-Minute Senate Drama, Johnson Escapes a Shutdown

March 10, 2024

It took four months, three continuing resolutions, and a couple of pig-headed parties, but Congress finally funded half the government. As usual, neither side is particularly thrilled with the $460 billion dollar package. But for Republicans in particular, the loss of some hard-fought committee wins stings. For the first time in ages, conservatives had managed to peel back Joe Biden’s radical policies on everything from taxpayer-funded abortion to the open border. But the price of only hanging on to one chamber meant that most of the GOP gains had to go. “I wish I had a magic wand,” Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) lamented. Don’t we all.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) tried to look on the bright side, pointing out that this whole process “is better than what they’ve done in the past.” “I mean, in the past,” he told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on “Washington Watch” Thursday, “I think some of these things were added literally in the dead of night — minutes, if not hours, before things are voted for. So a little bit more discipline, but not enough.”

Over in the House, Appropriations Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas) agreed that Republicans tried to get back to regular order on the 12 budgets, a diligence that hasn’t happened in 27 years. “We drafted the most conservative bills in history,” she pointed out. “We considered House bills individually on the floor, and we avoided a massive omnibus measure.” But apart from that, critics say, there isn’t much to hang the GOP’s hat on.

The hard-liners of the House Freedom Caucus are furious that the bottom line is “bust[s] the [spending] caps,” spending money at an even higher level than former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) majority did. That would explain the Democrats’ support, 207 of whom did the heavy work of pushing the minibus over the top. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) was especially colorful in his response, quoting Scripture to slam the final product. “Like a dog to his vomit (Proverbs 26:11), congressional Republicans have returned to earmarks. This will not end well for the GOP,” he warned. We lose elections when we act like Democrats.”

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) was a little more tempered but visibly frustrated by the need to woo Democrats. “It ultimately passed with MORE DEMOCRAT votes than Republican votes,” he wanted people to know. “… Disappointing is an understatement — but our fight isn’t over. In the coming weeks, we’ll consider the second half of the omnibus. Will more Republicans join the fight to stop funding Joe Biden’s radical agenda? I surely hope so.”

But, as so many Republicans tried to explain, this is the unfortunate reality of their wafer-thin majority. “The idea that Republicans were going to get everything they wanted in an environment where they have barely one-half of one-third of our federal government is a little hard to imagine,” Johnson conceded. “It’d be great.” Instead, he urged people to focus on the positives. “The reality is that this bill cuts $200 billion of non-defense, non-VA spending over the budgetary window. That is a remarkable accomplishment … when you look at a 10% cut to EPA, when you look at an 8% Cut to ATF, when you look at a 95% cut to the FBI construction accounts … they are absolutely an important first step.”

On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been the target of most of the GOP’s outrage. “Mitch McConnell … is on Chuck Schumer’s side,” Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) argued. “So he’ll organize whatever votes it takes to do whatever Chuck Schumer wants to get done.” And, he added, it’s all “behind closed doors, which is how it works up here.” But when Republicans said “no way,” suddenly “we’re the problem, because we actually expect real border security.”

The whole situation is mind-blowing to Senator Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), who, as a former governor, insisted on an open budget process — preferably one that sticks to the timeline. “The Senate Appropriations Committee pass all 12 of their bills in June and July,” he pointed out to Perkins on Wednesday. But instead of moving forward with them, “Schumer sat on them.” “We didn’t take our first votes on them until November 1st — a full 30 days after the end of our fiscal year. And then we voted on three of them that were lumped together. And he hasn’t allowed us to take another single vote on any one of those since November 1st.”

Imagine how differently this whole spending debate would have played out if Schumer had given the two chambers time to meticulously work through the bills. “It’s just a terrible example of how Chuck Schumer is gaming the system for his own personal aggrandizement, his power, so he can write these bills, and really not [allow] our system to work the way it should be,” Ricketts said. “And if we’re going to get our spending under control, we’ve got to have a regular system where we can vote on these bills individually [and] offer amendments. But that is just not happening with Chuck Schumer.”

His hope, and the hope of so many Republicans, is that once McConnell steps down, they’ll have a leader who not only fights for their priorities but also reforms the system “back to the way it used to be.” “And this is what I’ll be looking for when I talk to the candidates who want to be our next leader — is that we will go back to a regular appropriations process and have that commitment to do all 12 [budgets] individually and be able to offer amendments. [That’s] one of the ways that we can go back to a regular order in the Senate.” And frankly, Ricketts explained, “I do feel that there are Democrats who want to see a change in this, but they’re all afraid of Chuck Schumer. He rules them with an iron fist.”

At the end of the day, though, GOP leaders are only working with what voters gave them. Could McConnell have fought harder? Absolutely. Could Johnson have ground government to a halt? Maybe. But the reality is, if conservatives want things to change in Congress, if we want to stop this dysfunction, “People have to go vote,” Perkins reiterated. Republicans are within striking distance of a profound power shift in the Senate, and they’re also on the verge of electing a new leader to take advantage of it.

If this half-trillion dollars in spending proves anything it’s that “elections matter,” Perkins insisted. “This is a message that conservatives [shouldn’t] give up. We’re close to a tipping point. We’ve got to keep voting and get those conservative, constitutionally-minded [leaders into office] so we can hold the line…”

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