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Johnson sends House home with huge to-do list and little progress to avoid government shutdown

February 15, 2024   Washington Examiner

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The House adjourned for its recess one day early amid disagreements over national security legislation, leaving town with a mounting to-do list and a government shutdown deadline just two weeks away. 

Lawmakers left the Capitol on Thursday afternoon without making progress on several pieces of legislation the House initially scheduled to consider this week. The lower chamber is not scheduled to return until Feb. 28, just days before the federal government is set to enter a partial shutdown on March 1. 


House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) brushed off questions on whether lawmakers would consider passing another short-term funding bill, telling reporters on Wednesday that “we think we’re going to meet the deadlines.”

The House passed a stopgap funding bill on Jan. 18 to extend the dates by which appropriations bills for fiscal 2024 must be passed or the government will enter a shutdown. 

The first batch of appropriations bills are set to expire on March 1, meaning Congress must pass its Agriculture; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; and Energy and Water legislation to ensure continuing funding for a slew of government departments. The second deadline falls on March 8 for Congress to pass the remaining appropriations bills. 


However, the path forward remains unclear as the House has not made progress on any of its spending bills since November. The House has passed only seven of its 12 appropriations bills so far, with the Senate even farther behind at just three. 

The House and Senate both must produce their own separate 12 appropriations bills before coming together for negotiations to agree on one finalized budget. But with the lower chamber not scheduled to return until Feb. 28, that leaves just three working days to pass some sort of spending agreement to keep the government’s lights on. 

Johnson could continue to kick the can down the road by passing another continuing resolution to buy more time for negotiations, but that is likely to be met with staunch opposition by hard-line conservatives who have repeatedly rejected the stopgap measures. 

The looming government shutdown is the latest challenge in Johnson’s four-month speakership as the Republican conference has struggled to advance much of its legislation due to intraparty disagreements. The latest show of this dissension came on Wednesday when the House voted to tank a procedural vote on a bill pertaining to state and local taxes, dealing a blow to New York Republicans who have pushed for the legislation for months. 


The bill failed after 18 Republicans voted with Democrats to block debate on the measure, an increasingly common method for conservatives to rebel when they disagree with their party leadership. 

Republicans have also run into stumbling blocks with legislation to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The House was originally scheduled to vote on that legislation on Friday, but the bill was later pulled from the schedule due to Republican infighting, resulting in the early recess. 

That decision elicited a response from the White House, which criticized Johnson for rejecting a Senate-led bill to provide aid to Ukraine and Israel and failing to bring other national security legislation to the floor. 

“Instead of ending his politicization of the country’s safety, Speaker Johnson is cutting and running, sending the House on an early, undeserved vacation as he continues to strengthen Russia’s murderous war effort and the Iranian regime at the expense of American national security, U.S. manufacturing jobs, and our closest alliances,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a memo. 


“Every day that Speaker Johnson causes our national security to deteriorate, America loses. And every day that he puts off a clean vote, congressional Republicans’ standing with the American people plunges,” he added. “Running away for an early vacation only worsens both problems.”


Making matters worse, Johnson will return to these troubles with a slightly smaller majority after Tom Suozzi won the special election to replace former Rep. George Santos (R-NY), flipping the formerly red seat back into Democratic control. That loss itself has prompted some fingerpointing within the House GOP, as some centrist lawmakers have been forced to defend themselves for their decision to oust Santos in the first place. 

“I didn’t shrink the Republican majority. George Santos shrunk it by his actions,” said Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), who voted to expel Santos from the House last year. “I don’t regret voting to expel George Santos. He was unfit to serve.”