As yesterday began on Capitol Hill, House Republican leaders had a relatively specific plan in mind for how the day would unfold. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his team intended to advance a stopgap spending bill — negotiated by two GOP factions — with the goal of preventing a government shutdown, which would then be followed by a procedural vote on a defense spending package.
The first part of the plan was derailed when Republican leaders came to realize that they didn’t have the votes, because too many of their own members were opposed to their own party’s legislation. The second part of the plan fell apart soon after — for the same reason. As NBC News summarized:
Republican divisions paralyzed the House again on Tuesday as a small band of conservative rebels blocked a motion to merely begin debate on a military funding bill and GOP leaders abandoned a separate vote to avert a shutdown at the end of the month.
The failure to pass the defense spending bill was especially embarrassing for McCarthy — in part because he’s now failed to pass this measure twice in two weeks.
A Politico report summarized last week’s developments this way: “To take a step back, this is a pretty dismal position for McCarthy to find himself in. He’s not stretching to pass a monumental piece of legislation. This is a routine spending bill — one that is typically the least controversial, seeing as it funds troop salaries and otherwise provides for the national defense. If he can’t pass this, what can he pass?”
A week later, the House speaker tried again, only to see a handful of Republican members reject a procedural vote — known as a vote on the rule — on the same appropriations bill.
For those who don’t follow Capitol Hill closely, the process of adopting a “rule” might be unfamiliar, but it’s a relatively straightforward step: Before a bill can be voted on, members adopt a measure to establish ground rules for the length of the debate, how it can be amended, etc. In nearly every instance, it’s little more than a procedural speed bump.
In fact, up until very recently a House majority conference hasn’t lost a vote on adopting a rule in more than two decades. This year, thanks to House Republicans, it’s now happened twice since June.
This came the same day in which the McCarthy-backed bill to prevent a shutdown was also derailed by members of his conference.
NBC News’ report added, “The House GOP chaos is worse than it may appear. The bills Republicans are fighting over have no chance of becoming law — and if they passed the chamber they’d merely represent an opening bid to negotiate with the Democratic-led Senate and President Joe Biden, who oppose the spending cuts and conservative policies that House Republicans are pursuing.”
It’s a key detail. Even if the measures the House speaker supports were to somehow pass, it wouldn’t matter: These are far-right plans that would face inevitable defeat in the Democratic-led Senate. But the fact that McCarthy can’t advance bad bills — because too many of his own members think they’re not quite radical enough — reinforces the increasingly obvious fact that electing a GOP majority in the House has brought a ridiculous level of chaos to Capitol Hill.
The bad news is that Republicans are pushing the nation closer to a government shutdown, which would begin next week. The worse news is that there’s an obvious solution that the hapless House speaker is going out of his way to ignore.
To prevent a shutdown, policymakers will need to craft a stopgap spending bill — known as a “continuing resolution,” or “CR” — that can pass both chambers and get President Biden’s signature. In theory, that should be easy: The recently approved debt ceiling agreement set spending levels that both parties agreed on.
But in practice, many House Republicans are refusing to go along with appropriations bills unless they spend far less. McCarthy could simply ignore their intransigence and pass spending bills with Democratic votes, but at that point, the House speaker realizes that some of his own members would try to fire him.
The deadline is 10 days away. Watch this space.