House Republicans had hoped to start passing spending bills for next year’s budget before leaving Washington this week. On Tuesday, however, a small group of hardline conservatives threatened to scramble those plans, appearing together at a press conference where they all but called for a government shutdown later this year if their demands for deeper funding cuts aren’t met.
It marked the latest twist in the ongoing showdown between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the far-right flank of his conference. The half-dozen House Freedom Caucus members who gathered Tuesday were among the group that nearly blocked McCarthy from winning the gavel earlier this year.
At their press conference, they repeated familiar complaints that GOP leaders weren’t planning large enough cuts to government spending for next year. But the group also issued a new demand: Conservatives want to review all 12 appropriations bills for next year’s budget at once in order to add up their spending reductions, and then vote on them together, instead of having a few bills at a time dribble onto the floor each week.
Their stance, coupled with the party’s slim four-seat majority, threatens to tank the votes on two budget bills Republicans have planned for this week. One would fund the Agriculture Department, while the other would fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, among other programs.
“We’re sounding the warning call,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. “We’re begging our leadership, listen to us. Do not take us on a further irresponsible spending path.”
Conservatives are urging McCarthy to pass a budget that reduces spending by $130 billion below the levels outlined in the recent debt ceiling deal, without relying on tactics they’ve derided as budget gimmicks, like rescinding unused pots of funding from previous years. Any such bill would almost certainly be rejected by the Democratic controlled Senate — but the hardliners said they weren’t troubled by that possibility.
“We should not fear a government shutdown,” Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said at a HFC press conference. “Most of what we do up here is bad anyway. Most of what we do up here hurts the American people.”
Other conservatives echoed Good and downplayed the possibility of Republicans being held responsible for another shutdown. “I’m not scared to shut down,” Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., told Semafor. “We make the right call and then whatever happens, happens.”
Republican hardliners feel empowered to make demands on McCarthy thanks to the GOP’s narrow majority in the House, which theoretically gives any group with a half-dozen members the power to veto party-line legislation. But it’s possible their holdout tactics may just force the speaker to cut another deal with Democrats on the budget, much as he did during the debt ceiling fight.
McCarthy seemed to hint at that possibility on Tuesday, saying if they blocked the spending bills from reaching the floor this week then “they would be taking the same position that Pelosi would want,” he told reporters. “I would not support that.”
It’s also unclear how united hardline GOP members even are on these latest demands. On Tuesday, Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry, R-Pa., told reporters after his group’s weekly meeting that there seemed to be “a lot of confusion” over appropriations. Meanwhile, other Republicans are privately chafing at the hardliners’ approach. “They just like attention and noise and screwing their colleagues over,” a House GOP aide told Semafor.
The potential holdouts could be further emboldened by the Club for Growth’s recent pledge to raise campaign cash to reelect the 20 members who stalled McCarthy’s speaker bid, and have in some ways begun to function as their own distinct faction in Congress, apart from the Freedom Caucus. (Norman told Semafor that the McCarthy holdouts had been dubbed “the Patriot 20.”)
Room for Disagreement
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chair of the Rules Committee, said he isn’t concerned about a government shutdown on Sept. 30 and downplayed any difficulties negotiating with hardline conservatives.
“Everyone’s tough to deal with on spending bills because everybody’s got a different set of priorities and different things that they emphasize,” Cole told Semafor. “It’s not unique to the Freedom Caucus.”
The House Freedom Caucus’s recent move to expel Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from their ranks illustrates the identity crisis the group faces, per the New York Times. “As the hard right expands and fractures, its members are struggling to figure out how to exert their power and divided over how disruptive they want to be,” per the NYT.
Kadia Goba contributed reporting.