The chances for a government shutdown inched a bit higher Monday as a group of right-wing House Republicans publicly declared what it will need to see in any stopgap bill to keep federal offices open past Sept. 30.
The House Freedom Caucus, composed of conservative and libertarian members who try to push GOP leadership further to the right, said in a statement on social media that they would not support a temporary spending bill unless it included several things likely to be anathema to Senate Democrats and the White House.
The list of demands includes adding a border security bill that passed the House in May, addressing the “unprecedented weaponization” of the Department of Justice and ending “cancerous woke policies” at the Department of Defense.
The government’s budget year ends Sept. 30, meaning new funding must be approved by then to keep many government agencies open and operating normally. The funding bills for those agencies, though, are still working their way through the House and Senate separately, thus the need for a short-term bill.
Usually, such a placeholder bill is non-controversial and simply keeps government spending at the same rate as the just-ended fiscal year for a short time. But the Freedom Caucus indicated that is not an option for its members.
“Any support for a ‘clean’ Continuing Resolution would be an affirmation of the current FY2023 spending level grossly increased by the lame-duck December 2022 omnibus spending bill that we all vehemently opposed just seven months ago,” the group said in its statement.
House Republicans hold 222 of the House’s 435 seats, meaning they can lose four members at most before being forced to rely on House Democrats to cross the aisle and vote with them. If the Freedom Caucus holds firm on its demands, it could force House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to seek Democratic help, which in turn could allow Democrats to force concessions on what’s in the stopgap bill.
Both McCarthy and his counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have downplayed the odds of a shutdown, even though a clear plan to avoid one has yet to materialize.
If the Freedom Caucus holds out and McCarthy and Democrats keep the government open on a temporary basis starting Oct. 1, there’s no guarantee an agreement on overall funding for federal agencies and programs for all of 2024 will be reached.
And the Freedom Caucus’ antics may sharpen divisions within the House Republican Conference. Before lawmakers left for their summer break, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus, complained the group was endangering the party’s more moderate members in swing districts by forcing them to vote on bills that would never pass the Senate.
“I just don’t understand that logic,” he said.