House Republicans unveil their plan to avert a government shutdown next week

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U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks during a news conference with families of hostages held by Hama in Gaza, in the Rayburn Room of the U.S. Capitol November 7, 2023 in Washington, DC. 

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Saturday unveiled their stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown set to begin next weekend. But with just five legislative days left until the deadline, Congress has little room for error.

Just two and a half weeks into the job, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., opted to go with a two-step continuing resolution, or CR, over a more typical funding extension covering the entire federal government. The untested funding approach is aimed at appeasing far-right agitators in his GOP conference who despise CRs.

The House is expected to vote as early as Tuesday to give members 72 hours to read the text of the bill, according to two people familiar with matter. The plan does not include budget cuts or aid for Israel.

Under the two-step strategy — which Johnson and others have dubbed a “laddered CR” but which others have likened to a step stool — several spending bills needed to keep the government open would be extended until Jan. 19, while the remaining bills would go on a CR until Feb. 2.

GOP hardliners had been pushing Johnson to include budget cuts as part of his two-tiered CR plan, a source involved in discussions told NBC News. One House Republican, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, quickly voiced his opposition to the bill shortly after it was released.

“It’s a 100% clean. And I 100% oppose,” Roy tweeted. “My opposition to the clean CR just announced by the Speaker to the @HouseGOP cannot be overstated. Funding Pelosi level spending & policies for 75 days — for future “promises.”

The plan is designed to avoid a messy showdown right before the holidays and buy Johnson and House Republicans more time to pass individual spending bills, but also create a sense of urgency with staggered funding cliffs. But it remains to be seen if the plan can pass the House, much less the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has dismissed the two-tiered approach.

“This two-step continuing resolution is a necessary bill to place House Republicans in the best position to fight for conservative victories,” Johnson said in a statement after he announced the plan. “The bill will stop the absurd holiday-season omnibus tradition of massive, loaded up spending bills introduced right before the Christmas recess.”

He added: “Separating out the CR from the supplemental funding debates places our conference in the best position to fight for fiscal responsibility, oversight over Ukraine aid, and meaningful policy changes at our Southern border.”

The laddered plan has the backing of Congress’ most conservative members, including Republicans who normally never vote for stopgap bills. If Johnson could get a temporary funding bill passed with only Republican votes, that would help him notch an early win among conservatives.

“I like the ladder approach,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. “I think if we try to pass some appropriations bills, we’re doing better than we’ve done in the past.”

But Democrats in both chambers have made it abundantly clear that they hate this idea, as does the White House — all of whom want a simple extension of government funding without any gimmicks. Democrats’ unified opposition to the laddered CR could mean that the House will ultimately have to swallow whatever clean or relatively clean CR gets passed by the Senate.

“I want a clean CR,” declared Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York all but ruled out the two-tiered approach when pressed by NBC News on Thursday. “A continuing resolution that is at the fiscal year 2023 levels is the only way forward because that’s the status quo,” he said, advocating for a “clean” CR.

Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., teed up a vote on a separate stopgap measure, setting the wheels in motion for action next week. The Democratic-led Senate is eyeing a clean continuing resolution that would run through mid-January, without additional funding for Ukraine, Israel and the border, according to two sources directly involved in the process.

But Schumer would likely need a time agreement from all 100 senators to fund the government by Friday’s deadline, something Senate hard-liners will be reluctant to give.

“I implore Speaker Johnson and our House Republican colleagues and learn from the fiasco of a month ago. Hard-right proposals, hard-right slash and cuts, hard-right poison pills that have zero support from Democrats will only make a shutdown more likely,” Schumer said in a floor speech.

What’s clear is that after last month’s public GOP civil war over the speaker’s gavel, Republicans have little appetite for shutting down the government. Even some hardcore conservatives, like Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., said they are willing to vote for a CR to keep the government open and don’t care how it’s structured.

“I’m open to supporting a CR, and if you’ve been following me, that’s a 180-degree turn,” said Bishop, a Freedom Caucus member who is running for North Carolina attorney general.

He said his wife recently asked what was happening in Congress this week. He replied: Figuring out “what the features of the CR are going to be.”

“I just don’t think that Americans care that much,” Bishop added.

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