House Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces backlash from Democrats as he aligns with hard-right GOP members to push for spending cuts. This strategy, aimed at appeasing the conservative faction within his party, sets the stage for a potential government shutdown later this year.
McCarthy had made promises of significant spending reductions to secure his position as speaker but had to compromise during debt-ceiling negotiations with the White House. As a result, some Republicans revolted, forcing McCarthy to pledge further spending cuts in the ongoing appropriations process.
This recent pledge has drawn criticism from Democrats who accuse McCarthy of breaking the bipartisan spending agreement. The impending clash is expected to occur when the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-run Senate attempt to pass an annual spending package in the fall. The stakes are high as a government funding lapse becomes increasingly likely. McCarthy’s position as speaker is at risk if he is forced to make concessions that displease hard-line conservatives.
Prior government shutdowns have caused disruptions, sending workers home and closing facilities like parks until the standoff is resolved. Although the economic impact of a shutdown is relatively small compared to the potential consequences of a U.S. default avoided in the debt-ceiling talks, the party held responsible for the shutdown may face political consequences. While previous Republican speakers have dealt with challenges from the right, McCarthy faces a more difficult task with a narrow majority (222 to 212). Conservative members have clarified that they will continue exerting pressure on party leadership, referring to their relationship with McCarthy as a “power-sharing” arrangement.
Some Republicans are growing frustrated with their colleagues’ tactics of blocking House proceedings unless their demands are met. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, expressed concern about a small group impeding the conservative agenda. Behind the scenes, McCarthy is working to educate lawmakers on the spending process and manage expectations for the fall. He has also been mediating disputes between moderate Republicans and the far-right House Freedom Caucus during GOP conference meetings.
McCarthy’s challenge lies in delivering a straightforward message to members: not everyone can always have their way, even as the speaker. Alongside his support for spending cuts, McCarthy has promised to pass all 12 appropriations bills constituting the annual budget and send them to the Senate. He has urged the Senate to follow suit and work towards an agreement on the bills. However, this approach has not been effectively implemented since the 1990s, with lawmakers often resorting to merging or negotiating the bills outside of a formal conference process. McCarthy has stated that he will not present an omnibus spending bill to transform Congress into a more functional institution that empowers rank-and-file members. However, this strategy may complicate the resolution of any impasse.
McCarthy’s job security remains under threat, as dissident members can force a vote on removing him from the speaker position. While negotiations to fund the government will begin with significant disparities between the House and Senate, McCarthy has proposed using the spending levels chosen by House Republicans in their debt-ceiling bill as a starting point. These levels would roll back discretionary spending to fiscal 2022 levels, excluding military, veterans, and homeland security expenditures. Consequently, politically challenging double-digit-percentage cuts would be necessary for healthcare and education.
On the other hand, Senators are basing their spending levels on the higher figures agreed upon in the debt-ceiling deal. This deal maintains discretionary nonmilitary spending at roughly the current year’s level and increases military spending by around 3%. As a result, the Senate’s proposed total is approximately $120 billion higher than the House’s proposal. According to House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rosa DeLauro, the disparity in spending targets makes a government shutdown highly likely.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer doubts that the House GOP proposal will garner much support in the Senate from both Democrats and Republicans, some of whom are adamant about securing higher military and Ukraine-related spending. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, believes that the disagreement will be resolved.
While the funding deadline is set for the end of September, lawmakers anticipate extending it through a continuing resolution until the end of December to prevent a government shutdown. Failure to pass all 12 appropriations bills by year-end would trigger automatic across-the-board cuts, known as a sequester, due to a provision in the debt-ceiling agreement to encourage negotiations.
Some Republicans argue that McCarthy needs to take a stronger stance against the dissident members, particularly in upcoming legislation like the annual farm bill and the National Defense Authorization Act, which usually receive bipartisan support. Finding enough Democrats to reach a consensus may become necessary for McCarthy to accomplish legislative goals and deliver to the President.