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


Johnson Scores First Win, Dodging Shutdown and Year-End Bloat

November 15, 2023

That sound you hear in Washington, D.C. is every congressional staffer breathing a sigh of relief. For once, the Hill will be home at a reasonable time for Christmas — not staring down another government shutdown or stuffing an unread trillion-dollar omnibus down the Democrats’ chimney. In the real first hurdle of Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-La.) young tenure, the House did as he asked: they passed a budget bridge to next year that spares America a whole lot of headaches.

By a 336-95 vote, the House decided to cut Mike Johnson some slack — agreeing to his unique “laddered” approach to the continuing resolution (CR) that buys Republicans more time to live up to their fiscal promises. “We were a little bit behind the eight ball here,” Glenn Grothman (R-Wisc.) admitted to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins immediately following the vote. “Your listeners will remember that we went through a long process without a speaker.” Now that the House has one, he pointed out, it will take some extra time for the chamber “to get our work done.”

With just days to go before a government shutdown, Johnson made impassioned pleas for the GOP to come together and agree to a plan that gives the House a window to debate these budgets individually. “We’re not surrendering,” Johnson argued. “We’re fighting, but you have to be wise about choosing the fights. You’ve got to fight fights that you can win — and we’re going to.” But let’s face it, he said. “It took decades to get into this mess. I’ve been at this job three weeks. … I can’t turn an aircraft carrier overnight, but this was a very important first step to get us to the next stage so that we can change how Washington works.”

Leading up to the vote, several Republicans applauded Johnson for doing his best to avoid both a government shutdown and a 2,000-page “Christmas tree omnibus.” “We set that as one of our goals at the first of the year, that we did not want that to happen again,” Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) told Perkins. Under this plan, the House has until January 19 and February 2 to pass two waves of appropriations bills. “I personally like that,” Carter said. “I personally like the idea of doing it as you can. You know, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, right? Well, let’s take these bites as we can get them, and then we go on and we work until February 2nd on everything else and try to get it done as well.”

Not every Republican agreed, insisting that anything the House passed — including a short-term CR — should have spending cuts. According to Grothman, Johnson openly confronted those critics, asking, “How is this going to end? How are you going to wind up ahead of the game by shutting down the government? Because eventually, it’s going to reopen.” And his point, Grothman said, was that “it will reopen when the Republicans get beat up in the news media. And none of these people who are voting against Mike today, breaking from our new speaker, could give him a reason or an explanation of how this was going to end.”

Johnson deserved better from his party, Grothman believed. “I felt sorry for our speaker. Most Republicans stuck with him, but on this first test, a lot didn’t. … He should have got[ten] … every single Republican to vote for him when he called for the vote. And sadly, [93] Republicans voted against him.”

Democrats filled in the blanks, pushing the CR across the finish line. Some, like Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.), snarkily told the media, “Once again, the Republican majority needs Democratic votes to govern,” as if bipartisanship is suddenly the most shocking thing to happen to the House. And maybe it is. Apparently, Congress is so used to one party imposing its will that regular order and compromise seem foreign.

The 93 Republicans’ objections notwithstanding, Grothman insisted that “the most important thing is who wins the arguments over what’s in these bills” in the new year. “…And [with] this [laddered] CR, you’re not going to be able to [roll] every appropriation bill together [in a last-minute omnibus] and have one of these 2,000-page behemoths. You’re going to have to break out a separate vote on education, a separate vote on national defense, a separate vote on military construction and veterans affairs, general government. Hopefully we’ll get as many separate votes as possible so we know what’s in the bills, which will be really a feather in the cap of Mike Johnson. But in order to get there, we had to win today [and] give him more time to get things done. And we did that.”

To those who complain this CR doesn’t cut spending, Carter said, “I get it. But the point is, we’re not going to be able to get [the appropriations bills] done [by Friday’s deadline]. We’re not going to be able to get all 12 bills with the spending cuts done anytime soon, certainly not before January the 19th. And why not go ahead and do what we can do until then? And I know that there may be a certain amount of leverage when you have all of them together. But, you know, we’ve tried that, and it hasn’t worked,” he insisted. “I’ve always said Washington is about big ideas. This is a big idea [that’s] never been done before. We ought to try it.”

And frankly, Perkins replied, “What would be gained by shutting down the government?” The House has to work “inch by inch, mile by mile,” he said. This proposal “is a step in the right direction. It moves us toward responsible governing.”

Absolutely, Carter agreed. “Let’s take incremental wins when we can. Let’s move the ball down the field. No, it’s not a Hail Mary, no it’s not a long touchdown pass, but it is advancing the ball down the field.” As for blaming the speaker over what might have been done with the CR, Carter called that “unfair.” “Mike Johnson inherited this situation,” he insisted. “… And he’s doing the best he can with it. … Personally, I thought it was a dumb thing to do to vacate the chair and to get rid of the speaker, [Kevin] McCarthy. I thought that was a big error on our part, but it is what it is. It’s done.”

At the end of the day, Grothman believes, “Mike will pull us together. [He’s] such a sincere guy. Everybody knows he’s trying to do the best he can. And of course, right now, because we had a new Democrat sworn in [Monday], we only can afford to lose three votes. So it’s tough to have 218 of 221 stick together,” the Wisconsin congressman admitted. “But if anybody can do it, Mike can do it.”

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