WASHINGTON: With a possible partial government shutdown looming in two weeks, House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Sunday said he would bring a defence spending bill to a vote “win or lose” this week, despite resistance from hardline fellow Republicans.
McCarthy is struggling to bring fiscal 2024 spending legislation to the House floor, with Republicans fractured by conservative demands for spending to be cut to a 2022 level of US$1.47 trillion – US$120 billion below the spending on which McCarthy agreed with Biden in May.
Late on Sunday, members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus and the more moderate Main Street Caucus announced a deal on a short-term stopgap bill to keep the government open until October 31, but with a spending cut of more than 8% on agencies apart from the defence and veterans affairs departments.
The measure, which is unlikely to become law, also includes conservative restrictions on immigration and the US border with Mexico. It does not include funding for Ukraine, which Biden had requested.
Republicans have said that such a deal could allow the House to move forward on the defence spending bill this week.
But it was unclear whether the measure had sufficient Republican support to pass the chamber. The spending cuts were also likely to draw opposition from Democrats in the House and Senate, who reject the immigration provisions.
Republicans hold a narrow 221-212 majority in the chamber as they bicker over spending and pursue a new impeachment drive against President Joe Biden while the US faces a possible fourth partial government shutdown in a decade.
McCarthy has begun to face calls for floor action seeking his ouster from hardline conservatives and others who have accused him of failing to keep promises he made to become speaker in January after a revolt from some of the most conservative Republicans in the House.
The Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate have until Oct 1 to avoid a partial shutdown by enacting appropriations bills that Biden, a Democrat, can sign into law, or by passing a short-term stopgap spending measure to give lawmakers more time for debate.
McCarthy signalled a tougher stand with hardliners, telling the Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures” program that he would bring the stalled defence bill to the floor this week. The House last week postponed a vote on beginning debate on the defence appropriations bill due to opposition from the hardliners.
“We’ll bring it to the floor, win or lose, and show the American public who’s for the defence department, who’s for our military,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy also said he wants to make sure there is no shutdown on Oct 1, saying: “A shutdown would only give strength to the Democrats.”
McCarthy has held closed-door discussions over the weekend aimed at overcoming a roadblock by the conservative hardliners to spending legislation. They want assurances that legislation will include their deep spending cuts, as well as conservative policy priorities including provisions related to tighter border security that are unlikely to secure Democratic votes.
“We made some good progress,” McCarthy said.
Representative Elise Stefanik, the No 4 House Republican, told the “Fox News Sunday” programme that she was optimistic about moving forward on appropriations after closed-door discussions.
But Republican representative Nancy Mace told ABC’s “This Week” that she expects a shutdown and did not rule out support for a vote to oust McCarthy’s ouster. Mace complained that the speaker has not made good on promises to her involving action on women’s issues and gun violence.
“Everything’s on the table at this point for me,” Mace said.
Mace played down the consequences of a shutdown, saying much of the government would remain in operation and that the hiatus would give government workers time off with back pay at a later date.
Democratic former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a shutdown would risk harming the most vulnerable members of society who depend on government assistance.
“We’re talking about diminishing even something as simple and fundamental as feeding the children,” Pelosi told MSNBC. “We have to try to avoid it.” - Reuters