House Republican leaders plan to give up on trying to pass a second government funding bill and are expected to leave Washington later Thursday, hamstrung by conservative demands for more spending cuts and internal division over social issues like abortion.
Three senior GOP lawmakers, discussing private conversations on condition of anonymity, said party leaders have conveyed they are planning to punt a floor vote until September on the bill to fund the Agriculture Department and the FDA for the next fiscal year.
The House’s apparent decision to adjourn for a six-week break amid the GOP stalemate portends a rocky September, when lawmakers will return to the Hill with just three weeks left to stave off a government shutdown.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership team hoped to pass many of their 12 annual funding bills as possible on the floor this month, aiming for a show of Republican unity that might bolster the House in a coming standoff with the Senate over federal funding. Now House GOP lawmakers are preparing to leave the Capitol on a note of disarray rather than cohesion, with a single passage vote to tout on a veterans funding bill and two spending measures still stuck in committee.
McCarthy’s team was still scuffling Thursday to whip support for the funding measures while appeasing members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who are demanding tens of billions of dollars in extra cuts to spending bills that leaders already finalized. In short, perennial hitch for McCarthy’s five-seat majority came back into play: Pacifying some lawmakers on the right risked losing the support of others.
“Sometimes when you come in and say, ‘OK, I’m gonna get savings here. I’m gonna squeeze here,’ the balloon pops up in other places,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), one of McCarthy’s top negotiators, said in a brief interview. “So I just lost four moderates and picked up two Freedom Caucus guys.”
“We’ll continue to have conversations,” he added.
Graves declined to comment in a brief interview when asked whether the agriculture bill would get a vote before the House leaves for recess. He only said, smiling, that the military construction and veterans spending bill wouldn’t be the last vote of the day.
The House has two other deregulatory votes teed up after the military construction bill Thursday. A McCarthy spokesperson did not return a request for comment about the GOP lawmakers’ confirmation that the agriculture spending bill would be postponed.
Graves contended that GOP leaders have made “extraordinary progress” so far on finding more savings in their spending measures as part of the ongoing talks, but he acknowledged that the last-minute haggling has proven difficult.
Across the Capitol, Senate appropriators advanced some of their remaining fiscal 2024 spending measures on Thursday. They sent some of the year’s biggest bills to the floor, including those that would fund the Pentagon and the largest swath of domestic programs.
An immigration-related policy snag initially held up full committee approval of the Department of Homeland Security funding bill, representing one of the only real public hurdles that senators have had to overcome so far in their funding work — a stark contrast with the House.
The Freedom Caucus’ proposals for additional agriculture cuts have particularly infuriated a swath of rank-and-file Republicans, especially those in rural districts who have strong ties to GOP leadership. McCarthy himself represents an agriculture-heavy district in California.
Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa) said he was “mortified” about some of the cuts to key agriculture programs that Freedom Caucus members were still working to secure on Thursday. He added that further cuts to USDA would impact food safety and U.S. agriculture exports that farmers in his state rely on.
Graves confirmed in the interview that a “whole spreadsheet” of possible cuts to the agriculture bill were discussed Wednesday with Freedom Caucus members. Those proposed slashes included taking aim at the McGovern-Dole foreign food aid program, which is often heavily guarded by Republican members in agriculture districts, as well as other key agriculture programs.
Biden-district Republican Rep. Marc Molinaro of New York also confirmed that his resistance to the agriculture funding bill’s treatment of abortion pill access still isn’t ironed out. Molinaro, a House Agriculture Committee member, reiterated that he would vote against the final bill if it included the GOP-backed ban on mail delivery of abortion pills.
However, far-right members have similarly threatened to vote against the bill if Republican leaders remove the provision.
Graves, asked about the abortion stalemate, said the negotiations at this point are narrowly focused on topline spending totals.
“The main issue we’re focusing on right now is the overall dollar amount,” Graves said.
Jennifer Scholtes and Sarah Ferris contributed.