House Republicans are showing small signs of progress as leaders try to wrangle the conference’s various factions together to pass their first batch of federal funding bills this week.
The House cleared a key procedural hurdle on Wednesday by voting to begin debate on legislation to fund military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and related agencies for fiscal 2024 — but not without hours of drama as conservatives press for deeper spending cuts.
Hardline conservative Republicans huddled in Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office for discussions that continued right up until the procedural rule vote. It ultimately passed 217-206, with two Republicans bucking the party and voting “no.”
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters while walking into the vote that he would support the rule — despite his previous opposition — citing a supposed agreement to lower overall funding to levels he and other conservatives have been pushing for.
Norman and other conservative have pushed to review all 12 appropriations bills in their final form before voting on individual bills, so they can ensure overall spending levels are low enough.
“I’m voting for the rule, I previously was opposed to it,” Norman said. “They worked the things out with the topline numbers so we’ll vote for the rule.”
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Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), another member of the conservative group, also said he would vote in favor of the rule “with the commitment” that the party’s funding bills would be set to fiscal year 2022 levels.
McCarthy, however, denied that any deal had been reached, telling reporters there was“no new agreement.”
“I’m willing to work on any way we can save money, where we get to 218… I haven’t talked to Ralph, I mean, there’s no new agreement to anything, we’ve all been working together the whole time through,” he added.
While McCarthy scored a victory on the rule vote, he faces an uphill battle to win passage of the Milcon-VA appropriations bill and another spending measure pertaining to agriculture, rural development, Food and Drug Administration and related agencies programs — both of which are on the schedule for this week.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) greets tourists in Statuary Hall of the Capitol after opening up the House for the week on Tuesday, July 25, 2023.
On the latter bill, GOP leadership is staring down a potential problem with moderates over provisions in the bill pertaining to the abortion drug mifepristone. The legislation would nullify a Biden administration rule that allows mifepristone to be sold in retail pharmacies and by mail with prescriptions from a certified health care provider.
“I have said from the very beginning that I would not support legislation that would ban abortion nationwide,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), a top Democratic target in 2024, said Wednesday morning. “And to me, some of these issues that are being dealt with should be dealt with at the state level, and that’s it. Some states allow it to be mailed, some states don’t. But that should be a decision with the states and the FDA.”
Overall, conservatives have accused leadership of using rescissions, or clawed back funding that was previously allocated, to get to their preferred overall fiscal year 2022 levels.
Conservatives support the proposals to yank back funds from some Democratic priorities that were greenlit in the previous Congress without GOP support. But they have been adamant that the funding should not be repurposed in appropriations bills to allow for spending at higher levels than those set for fiscal year 2022.
“You’re going to hear that we have made rescissions to get down to the number that you heard, the $1.471 [trillion],” Rep. Keith Self (R-Texas) said Tuesday at a press conference held by the House Freedom Caucus, referring to the topline sought by conservatives.
“But then those rescissions are going to be added back later. Watch for it. That should not happen,” he said. “If we go down to the $1.471 [trillion], we stay there.”
Rep. Keith Self (R-Texas) addresses reporters during a press conference with members of the House Freedom Caucus on Tuesday, July 25, 2023 to discuss the FY 2024 appropriations process. (Greg Nash)
GOP appropriators announced earlier this year that they would mark up their funding bills in line with the fiscal 2022 levels, a key ask from some conservatives. But negotiators also proposed more than $100 billion in rescissions, while redirecting the funding toward areas like border security and addressing “threats posed by the People’s Republic of China” and abroad.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who serves on the appropriations panel, suggested that making such cuts would be tough.
“Then you just drop it on the floor and stomp on it. What else do you do with it?” he told reporters. “You can’t make logical cuts in there.”
Simpson told reporters that he planned to meet with some members of the House Freedom Caucus later on Wednesday to discuss some of the funding proposals. “So, that they know what we’ve done, and why we’ve cut certain things – and why we haven’t,” he explained.
Simpson also acknowledged that there’s an understanding that the partisan House-passed bills will likely look much different after negotiations eventually with the Democratic-led Senate.
“It’s not gonna become a law,” he said, adding: “That’s gonna take compromise. That’s the nature of politics.”
The push and pull underscores the difficult balancing act leaders face in getting all 12 funding bills through the House floor with a narrow majority.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said on Tuesday that she isn’t anticipating any support from her side of the aisle.
“Why would we?” DeLauro told The Hill, before taking aim at what she called “programmatic cuts” in the GOP-backed bills. “Then they compound that with rescissions. So, they take money from other great programs, and they move it just to cover their tracks.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) speaks to reporters after a closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.
Some Republicans say they’re watching the process as closely as possible as more chatter emerges around potential amendments, with some making clear they won’t be a rubber stamp for any changes.
“I’m of the view that when you make an agreement, like we did with the President and the Speaker, that we should live within that spirit,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said on Tuesday.
“I’m not an absolute yes or I’m not a ‘stamp yes.’ I’m gonna watch what’s going on, and go from there,” Bacon said.
Emily Brooks contributed.
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