Exasperated Republican leaders in the House are pointing fingers at the holdouts in their own party who are keeping them stuck and without a clear plan to avert a government shutdown in just one week.
Leadership does not have the votes to advance a short-term funding bill to keep the lights on past Sept. 30, with a handful of hard-line Republicans handing Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) setback after setback. They are also not yet taking the step of working with Democrats on a compromise, a move that would further inflame the rebels and potentially threaten McCarthy’s Speakership.
“They like to stop everything and then they turn around and say it’s your fault, you’re not getting anything done,” McCarthy said of the hard-liners on Saturday.
“I think people’s perverted intentions have really caused problems this year,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a key McCarthy ally, told reporters.
In a concession to the hard-liners, Republican leaders plan to advance four full-year appropriations bills next week — a last-ditch effort that does nothing in of itself to avert a shutdown, but that GOP leaders will build enough goodwill with holdouts to move them to vote in favor of a short-term funding bill.
But they are doing so while taking jabs at the members who have long made advancement of their priorities difficult.
When the GOP conference reached the apparent breakthrough agreement on Wednesday on how to proceed on the full-year funding bills the conservatives have been demanding, some of them — such as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — took a victory lap and said that GOP leadership was adopting their strategy.
That frustrated GOP leaders and their allies.
“The arsonists are out there, number one, whining that their house is on fire; number two, are going to want credit that they put the fire out; and then number three, are gonna set up a GoFundMe site to get paid for it,” Graves said.
“I think that if we get into a shutdown, it’s because there was a failure in strategy that was absolutely manipulated or distorted by disingenuous behavior, intentions and probably ignorance,” he later added.
Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) told reporters on Friday that “Some of the same people who were objecting to the whole process saying we should be bringing up individual bills are the reason we’re not bringing up individual bills. So, let’s not have a circular logic here.”
“We’re not going to put up with this nonsense that somehow certain people are taking credit that we’re running individual bills. We’ve been trying to run individual bills since July.”
On the whole, leaders are sharpening their messaging as the Sept. 30 funding inches closer.
McCarthy suggested that the holdouts who want to “throw some fit” would be responsible if the government shuts down.
“I don’t understand, if a few people here want to hold it out why do the border agents have to pay? Why do the Coast Guard have to pay? Why do they not have to be paid because somebody wants to throw some fit here?” McCarthy told reporters on Saturday. “That’s not right.”
Hard-line Republicans have repeatedly stymied McCarthy on funding and handed him several embarrassing defeats over the past week. They twice sank a normally routine procedural vote for a full-year Pentagon funding bill. And they lined up against a proposed short-term stopgap funding bill the party worked out — then again after Republican leaders touted a breakthrough in negotiations.
In the GOP’s narrow majority, just a handful of Republican holdouts can sink any partisan legislation.
The difficulty leaders face was on full display with a chance encounter during a news conference on Saturday.
As Graves, Rep. Erin Houchin (Ind.), and Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) projected that the vast majority of the conference is unified in opposing a government shutdown, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) — one of a handful of hardline holdouts opposing any continuing resolution (CR) short-term funding plan — walked past in the background.
“I won’t support a CR,” Rosendale told reporters who ran after him.
Rosendale and other “never CR” Republicans argue that Congress should only work on passing regular appropriations bills and break the pattern of stopgaps that often force lawmakers to swallow huge funding bills just before end-of-year holidays. Some of them insist that Congress, if it really wanted to, could figure out how to fund the government for the next year before the government shuts down on Oct. 1.
But leadership allies flatly reject that possibility.
“If folks continue holding out on the solution of currently moving forward on the four appropriations bills and then moving forward on the continuing resolution — because anyone, anyone who says that we’re gonna finish all 12 appropriations bills between now and next Saturday is absolutely hallucinating,” Graves said.
Graves added that a government shutdown “further empowers a liberal solution” by empowering Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and President Biden.
As the House struggles to come up with a solution, the Senate is making moves to keep Washington running. On Friday, Schumer set up a path for the upper chamber to move first on a bill to fund the government beyond the end of the month, despite the fact that the House traditionally moves first on spending and revenue bills.
Even as GOP leadership allies vent their frustrations, they remain optimistic about finding a path through the conservative blockade in the final days before the funding deadline.
“We’re in a legislative body where people think that there’s an infinite array of options when in reality, it’s a short menu. It’s a very short menu of options,” Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who has been a key negotiator for McCarthy in multiple standoffs this year, told reporters on Friday. “Over time they start realizing that is in fact, the menu.”
The Speaker placed faith in conservatives relenting amid the deadline pressure.
“I always believe when you get to the final deadlines is when the real crunch comes,” McCarthy said Saturday. “So I’m believing in human behavior for those that have been holding out knowing that crunch time’s coming and even if they say, well, ‘why didn’t all this happen sooner?’ Well, you’re the ones who held it up.”
“Maybe they’d see the pressure to do something different,” he added.