Centrist Republicans warn far-right tactics could backfire in fight for funding

WASHINGTON — Center-right Republicans in the House are sounding the alarm that a series of aggressive demands from far-right lawmakers could scrap government funding legislation before a crucial deadline to avoid a shutdown.

GOP members fend off a group of 21 ultraconservatives who sent President Kevin McCarthy, R-California, an ultimatum with explicit threats to vote against funding bills that fall short of their demands, including spending cuts beyond the levels of a recent finance law.

Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, an appropriations committee member and chairman of the center-right Republican Governance Group, said if far-right members aren’t realistic, the GOP majority will have to deal with the House Democrats in the lead up to the Sept. 30 funding deadline.

“I understand and appreciate their tactics. It makes for good sound bites or potential for their media to say they are the only ones who want to stand up and stop the spending. We are all conservative but there is a majority of us who want to see this country work,” Joyce said in an interview. “We can work together as Republicans, or we can work with Democrats.

Joyce added that overly aggressive tactics could lead to the GOP-controlled House failing its opening bid and empowering Democrats. “Our failure to act strengthens the hand of the Senate and the president’s office,” he said. “We are going to close the country for this? Stop all spending? No, we will agree.

Joyce also pushed back a letter from the Judicial Chamber Ccommittee Cjim jordan hairR-Ohio, demanding a series of cuts or funding restrictions for the Justice Department and the FBI in appropriations legislation.

“I’ll say this to Jim across the way: These are just requests,” Joyce said. “You don’t get priority just because you’re Jim Jordan.”

Rep. Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma, co-chair of the Republican Main Street Caucus, said some of the 21 signatories to the letter to McCarthy were changing their demands after initially insisting the bills pass organically through the committee.

“Those who signed this letter are now moving the goalposts a bit,” Bice said in a brief interview. “And I think that’s frustrating for a lot of us.”

In their letter to McCarthy, the ultra-conservatives also insisted that “cancellations” of unspent money cannot count for their insistence that funding return to fiscal year 2022 levels.

It’s a familiar struggle for centrist Republicans, who are often agitated by the tactics of their far-right colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus but struggle to stop them. A similar group last week pushed McCarthy to add divisive amendments to the annual defense policy bill, including provisions on abortion and transgender people, making the typically bipartisan measure partisan and sparking a fight with the Democrats.

The new backlash from centrists in the GOP involves the threat to reject funding bills that are too far right-leaning. But the right flank does not take these threats seriously, believing instead that its centre-right colleagues will eventually give in to its wishes.

“If you’re a moderate, you pull out your gun and never expect to have to shoot. Whereas if you’re a conservative and you pull out a gun, you’re ready to pull the trigger,” said a House Republican staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the internal dynamic.

Along the way, some Republicans worry that loading government funding legislation with unpopular provisions — like drastically cutting rural energy programs, defunding federal law enforcement, or adding anti-terrorism measures. -abortion – could cost politically vulnerable Republicans re-election in 2024, with Democrats salivating at the thought of weaponizing their votes.

Some Republicans say the House will eventually return to funding levels in the debt limit law, even though McCarthy has given the go-ahead to far-right demands to pass an initial bill with less spending before negotiations with the Democratic-led Senate and President Joe Biden.

“What’s happening is we’re going a bit to the right on those votes, and by the time we’re negotiating with the Senate and the president, we’re back with the debt ceiling agreement,” he said. said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who represents an Omaha-based district that Biden won in 2020. “We’ll come back to the debt ceiling agreement, I believe, when we’re done.

“And then they’ll all be mad,” Bacon added.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R.S.D., the other main street caucus co-chair, said the intra-party disagreement was mostly about tactics.

“It may be that when the rubber hits the road, there is increased tension. But a lot of Republicans want to spend less money,” Johnson said, adding that some conference attendees don’t have to vote for the bipartisan final funding deal. “Coalitions for final passage don’t have to look like coalitions for initial passage.”

Rep. Ralph Norman, R.S.C., one of 21 signatories to last week’s letter, said conservatives aren’t worried about more moderate GOP lawmakers voting against a bill that lean too far to the right.

“If they do, then that’s what it is,” Norman said with a shrug.

“I think we are doing what is good for the country,” he said. “We weren’t happy with the debt ceiling agreement. … The only leverage we have now is credit.

A sticking point for the right is that it views some provisions of the appropriation bills as accounting gimmicks, which could prove problematic in achieving goals in a way that 218 Republicans can rally behind.

“I am very pro-termination. I’m just not being used to fill or increase overall agency expenses,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. “That’s what’s happening now. … So that’s where the appropriations debate is.”

Asked about the prospects for an Oct. 1 shutdown if Congress can’t reach a deal, Roy said that’s up to Biden.

“It depends on whether the administration wants to work with us to change the policies that need to be changed,” he said, adding that House Republicans must use the “power of the stock market” to fight for their values. . “We have to force the hand of the administration. We move the needle.

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com

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