Newly elected U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson has three weeks to broker an agreement with Democrats to avoid a partial government shutdown when a short-term spending law expires on Nov. 17.
The Louisiana Republican, who has leaped from relative obscurity to one of the four congressional leaders, has already spoken with his Senate counterparts and met with President Joe Biden, though it’s unclear how he’ll handle the transition from lawmaker to top U.S. leader.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Thursday that Johnson has his support as Johnson “begins to steer the House Republican majority.”
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” McConnell said. “House and Senate Republicans need to work together on a number of urgent priorities, beginning with supplemental appropriations for a number of our national security priorities.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said shortly before McConnell spoke that he had called Johnson to congratulate him and encouraged him to pursue bipartisanship on must-pass bills.
“Whether House Republicans like it or not, this is divided government,” Schumer said. “Bipartisanship is the only way we’ll be able to get anything done.”
The Democratic Senate and Republican House, Schumer said, must work together to provide funding for Israel and Ukraine.
“To allow (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to succeed is to endanger America’s national security and it’s alarming that a growing number of House Republicans don’t seem to care about this,” Schumer said.
Schumer also cautioned Johnson against trying to cut funding in the full-year government funding bills below the levels agreed to this summer as part of the debt limit deal.
“They’ll be dead on arrival,” Schumer said. “All they’ll do is waste more time in a moment where every day counts.”
An adjustment to power
Johnson, who won the Republican nomination for speaker late Tuesday and was elected on the floor Wednesday, is relatively unknown to several of his colleagues in the Senate as well as Democrats in the House.
All that will change in the coming weeks as Johnson adjusts to being one of just two powerful Republican leaders in Congress who shape policy and politics nationwide by setting the agenda for their fellow GOP lawmakers.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin said Thursday he is trying to find a time to have Johnson meet with GOP senators to introduce himself.
“We’re trying to get him over here, hopefully next week, because I don’t think there’s any senator over here that really knows him,” Mullin said.
Now that Johnson is speaker, Mullin said, he expects Johnson will get more information about the wars in Israel and Ukraine through classified briefings, possibly leading him to support an aid package for the two countries.
“I think as a member, he had his own positions. You can look at his vote records on that. As speaker, he has to take the conference into play,” Mullin said. “And you gotta remember he’s the No. 3 guy now and so he’s going to get read into a lot of information that he may not have had before.”
Johnson, as speaker, is the No. 3 U.S. leader, second in the line of presidential succession behind Vice President Kamala Harris.
“I think your opinion changes when you get read in at certain levels,” Mullin said, noting he’s gotten the more detailed briefings as part of his membership on the Armed Services Committee.
Johnson and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries met with Biden on Thursday afternoon before attending a briefing on the national security supplemental spending request, according to a White House official.
Putting aid for Israel and Ukraine on the same bill as border security may be the best path forward for the emergency spending bill in the House, Mullin said.
Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy, a senior appropriator, said his fellow member of the Louisiana delegation is controlled, confident without being arrogant and works well with others.
“In the rough and tumble world of politics, I can count on a couple of fingers the number of people I’ve ever met that didn’t like Mike,” Kennedy said. “Disliking Mike is like disliking Golden Retrievers, you know. He’s just a very nice guy.”
Kennedy said he wasn’t sure exactly how Johnson would handle the annual government funding process, or put together a bill to provide aid to Israel and Ukraine.
“I think he’ll try to convince his caucus that a partial victory is better than no victory,” Kennedy said. “Now, if that doesn’t work, you’ll go to a plan B.”
Johnson, he said, won’t “be one of these people that says ‘Oh, a shutdown will be good for the country. It’ll show we mean business.’
Spending discussions ongoing
Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack, a senior appropriator, said he hasn’t heard what the plan will be for funding the government beyond the Nov. 17 deadline, but said “those discussions are going on at the highest levels.”
“It’s just among the critical issues that the new speaker is going to have to wrestle with and it’s a bit unfair to him that he has to inherit such unfinished business, but that’s kind of par for the course around here,” Womack said.
Getting bipartisan agreement on the full-year spending bills, Womack said, will require House Republicans to reckon with their decision earlier this year to cut funding throughout many of the dozen bills below the levels set in the bipartisan debt limit deal.
“I have pushed back against that, because I think that is disrespectful to our process,” Womack said.
“To get through committee, be ready to go to the floor and then find out ‘Oh, we were just kidding on all those numbers,’” Womack said. “So this is going to have to be negotiated and there’s going to have to be some reckoning on it. And I don’t know what that’s going to look like. I’ll leave that to the speaker and his leadership team to fashion a way forward.”
One option, Womack said, would be for the top Republican and top Democrat on each of the dozen spending subcommittees to begin negotiations with their Senate counterparts.
“Those things need to happen. We need a path forward,” Womack said. “And then I’m sure that might set up the next round of potential chaos that we seem to be accustomed to having around here.”
North Carolina Republican Rep. Dan Bishop said he spoke with Johnson on Wednesday evening about the next steps for government funding and the supplemental spending request, though no decisions were made.
“I can’t really give you answers substantively, but we’re working through some stuff,” Bishop said.
Washington state Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal said she hopes the House would pass another stopgap spending bill before the Nov. 17 deadline, but hasn’t heard anything about what that bill would look like, or how the House would work out full-year bills with the Senate.
“Unfortunately, their plan is to bring bills to the floor that have no chance whatsoever of getting past the Senate,” Jayapal said. “So we’ll need a CR and I believe that we will get one.”
CR refers to continuing resolution, one of the names for the short-term government funding bill that Congress passes to avoid a shutdown when it is unable to approve all 12 full-year spending bills.
The easiest way for Congress to clear a spending bill for Israel and Ukraine, Jayapal said, would be for the Senate to send one over to the House quickly.
“But I don’t know what’s going to be in it. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I don’t know. We just got a speaker,” Jayapal said.
Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, chair of the Defense spending panel, said his goal for the supplemental is to have the aid for Israel and Ukraine move together, not individually as some Republicans have advocated.
“Actually to be honest with you, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have disaster and everything in one package, but that’s not a job for me to decide,” Tester said.
Johnson voting record on spending
Congressional leaders, including newly elected Johnson, will have to decide on that and more in the weeks ahead.
At the top of their to-do list is passing a second stopgap spending bill that is needed to stave off a partial government shutdown when the current funding patch expires on Nov. 17.
Both chambers will then need to find agreement on the dozen annual government funding bills, a challenging task given that the House bills are only backed by Republicans while the Senate bills are broadly bipartisan.
The Biden administration has sent lawmakers a $106 billion supplemental spending request for national security issues as well as a $56 billion request for domestic priorities. Lawmakers will need to decide how much of that funding they are willing to provide and how they want it to move through Congress.
There are also several reauthorizations that need to clear both chambers in the months ahead, including for the Federal Aviation Administration, the annual defense policy bill and the farm bill.
While Johnson may take a different approach to spending bills as speaker, he hasn’t been especially supportive of supplemental aid, stopgap spending measures, or final full-year spending bills in the past.
Johnson voted against the stopgap spending bill that Congress approved in September. That law prevented a partial government shutdown at the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, but it only lasts through Nov. 17.
Johnson voted for the debt limit and spending levels agreement that Congress approved with broad bipartisan support in June. That agreement was brokered after weeks of negotiations between Biden administration officials, North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry and Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves.
Johnson voted against the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package that Congress approved last December. The law included all 12 of the annual government funding bills. The law also included $40 billion for natural disaster recovery and $45 billion in aid for Ukraine.
Johnson voted for the first tranche of military aid to Ukraine, but he voted against the first batch of non-military aid to Ukraine. That money was included in larger spending packages that each held several other full-year government spending bills.
Johnson voted against the second and third aid packages to Ukraine. While the second bill was a stand-alone measure, the third Ukraine funding law included several other provisions.