WASHINGTON – US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy plunged forward on Monday into the biggest challenge of his eight months as the top Republican in Congress as he tries to avoid a government shutdown in less than two weeks without losing his speakership.
The Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate have until Sept 30 to avoid the fourth partial government shutdown in a decade by passing spending legislation that President Joe Biden can sign into law to keep federal agencies afloat.
Republicans hold a 221-212 majority in the House that leaves McCarthy with little room to maneuver as he contends with opposition to the spending legislation from a small group of hardline conservatives. McCarthy told reporters he would bring two spending bills to the House floor for consideration this week, including a short-term stopgap measure, to see if they can pass.
“I will continue to fight all the way through,” said McCarthy, saying that a government shutdown would undermine US security abroad and at the border with Mexico.
“We should show the American public our ideas and be able to pass them,” McCarthy added. “We’re going to be rational, responsible and reasonable.”
Political brinkmanship has begun to attract the attention of Wall Street, with rating agency Fitch citing repeated down-to-the-wire negotiations that threaten the government’s ability to pay its bills when it downgraded US debt rating to AA+ from its top-notch AAA designation earlier this year.
The log-jams are not limited to the House, as one hardline Senate Republican holdout, Tommy Tuberville, has blocked confirmation of hundreds of senior military officers due to his opposition to policies facilitating abortion access for female service members.
McCarthy has vowed to move forward this week on an US$886 billion (S$1,208 billion) fiscal 2024 defense appropriations bill, which stalled last week as hardliners withheld support to demand a top line fiscal 2024 spending level of US$1.47 trillion – US$120 billion less than what McCarthy and Biden agreed to in May.
That vote is expected on Wednesday. McCarthy said he will bring a stopgap measure – known as a “continuing resolution,” or CR – to the floor on Thursday. McCarthy can afford to lose no more than four Republican votes on partisan legislation. More than a half-dozen, including allies of former President Donald Trump, are vocally opposed to the continuing resolution.
The measure would keep federal agencies afloat until Oct 31, giving Congress more time to enact full-scale appropriations for 2024. It would cut discretionary spending by about 8 per cent for agencies outside of defense, veterans affairs and disaster relief and would impose certain restrictions on immigration and the border.
“This is a terrible bill, lumping the funding of disparate agencies of government into one BAD VOTE,” Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, a McCarthy opponent, said on social media.
Others complained that it would not cut spending by enough and would retain funding for US Special Counsel Jack Smith, who has charged Trump with felonies over his handling of classified documents and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.