WASHINGTON – Speaker Kevin McCarthy was running out of options Monday as he pushed ahead with a plan to keep the federal government from shutting down, but even including hardline border security provisions wasn't enough to appease the far-right flank in his Republican House majority.
The speaker is trying to convince his Republican conference that there will heavy political fallout from a shutdown as he plows toward a vote to pass a stopgap measure, called a continuing resolution, that would keep government offices open past the Sept. 30 deadline. GOP leadership is preparing for a vote by Thursday, but McCarthy is warning he'll keep House lawmakers in Washington into the weekend. Regardless, many are already bracing for a weeks-long shutdown.
“I’ve told all of Congress you’re not going to go home. We’re going to continue to work through this,” McCarthy said Monday at the Capitol. “Things that are tough sometimes are worth it."
He also suggested that time is still on his side and panned the idea of compromising with Democrats as he tries to pass the annual spending measures on his own, saying there were “a lot of good ideas” still coming from Republicans.
“This isn’t the 30th — we’ve got a long ways to go,” he said.
There is also no hope of passing all of the appropriations bills on Congress’ agenda before then. Even a Defense appropriations bill — usually an easy lift with Republicans — has stalled in the House as they resist more money for Ukraine.
The speaker on a Sunday night call with House Republicans pitched the one-month funding bill that was negotiated between the hard-right House Freedom Caucus and a group of pragmatic-minded conservatives known as the Main Street Caucus, according to those with knowledge of the call.
McCarthy called the package a “bottom-up” approach. It was intended to win support from the conservative wing of the Republican Conference by cutting last year's overall spending levels by 1%, and including a slew of Republican proposals for border security and immigration. But in order to protect current spending levels for Republican priorities of defense, veterans and disaster relief, it slashes other spending by more than 8%.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a floor speech said the proposal from the House "can be boiled down to two words: slapdash, reckless.”
“Slapdash, because it’s not a serious proposal for avoiding a shutdown, and reckless because if passed would cause immense harm to so many priorities that help the American people,” he said.
With the Senate controlled by Democrats who, along with some Republicans, will not accept the conservative options, the best hope McCarthy has at this point is to simply pass a measure to kickstart debate with the other chamber. But even that route is doubtful with time dwindling and McCarthy struggling to push his conference to avert a shutdown.
“There's quite a few people that are against it right now,” said Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., leader of the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative faction in the House, about the latest proposal, adding that he was still considering it. He said a lot of work was happening “behind the scenes” to get the votes to pass it.
Leadership, as well as members of some of the so-called “five families” — the various conservative factions that make up the House Republican majority — convened later Monday behind closed doors in the speaker’s office.
McCarthy, staring down just eight working days in session before funding runs out, appeared ready to press towards votes this week on both a continuing resolution and the Defense appropriations bill, even if they can't pass.
“The best path forward — to get conservative solutions, to reduce spending, to hold this administration accountable, to get solutions on the border — is by moving forward with what these guys have put together,” said Rep. Garrett Graves, a Louisiana Republican who is one of McCarthy's top lieutenants.
Though McCarthy still contends he has days to maneuver before the government's fiscal year ends, he has also tried to warn his party that a government shutdown is likely to backfire on Republicans politically.
“I’ve been through shutdowns and I’ve never seen somebody win a shutdown because when you shut down, you give all your power to the administration,” McCarthy said in a Fox News interview on Sunday.
“How are you going to win your arguments to secure the border if the border agents don’t get paid? How are you going to win the arguments to get wokeism out of the Department of Defense? If even our own troops aren’t being paid? You have no strength there.”
But McCarthy is facing a cadre of Republicans who are prepared to endure a prolonged shutdown. A handful of GOP lawmakers swiftly took to X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, shortly after the Sunday call to criticize the proposed package, even with spending cuts and border measures, as woefully insufficient.
One of the Freedom Caucus lawmakers who helped craft the proposal, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., said he answered phone calls coming into his office Monday and he heard frustration from people critical of the package, pushing him to hold out for more conservative cuts.
He was also unbothered by the prospect of a shutdown.
“People can live without our government for a period of time,” he said. “The sun comes up every day. People live their lives. Life goes on."
But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a memo Monday to the business community warning that a prolonged shutdown could cause disruptions across the country.
“Individuals and businesses rely on the discretionary functions of government on a daily basis,” the Chamber wrote. “From passports and permits to clinical trials and contractors, a well-functioning economy requires a functioning government.”
The Biden administration is also highlighting the potential damage from a funding stoppage. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on CNBC Monday, "We’ve got a good, strong economy and creating a situation that could cause a loss of momentum is something we don’t need.”
McCarthy could potentially turn to House Democrats to pass a stopgap measure if he was willing to strip the conservative policy wins out of a funding bill.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries met with McCarthy on Monday, but several right-wing members are threatening to try to oust the speaker if they forge a partnership to pass a continuing resolution.
Jeffries said he would only support a “clean” funding bill without the Republican extras, and particularly slammed the GOP idea of funding an “ineffective, medieval border wall” as part of the funding stopgap.
He said, “It's all on Republicans at this moment."
Associated Press writer Fatima Hussein in Washington contributed reporting.