House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) is calling for an immediate launch to bipartisan talks on 2024 spending, but warned that Democrats will demand the funding levels adopted in the bipartisan debt ceiling bill earlier in the year.
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, Jeffries called on the other leaders in both parties, and both chambers, to kick off the talks between the top four appropriators: Reps. Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
“That should happen, in our view, immediately, in a manner where the spending numbers are consistent with the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act that everyone agreed to and is now a matter of law,” he said.
The entreaty came just one day after the House voted overwhelmingly to approve a two-tiered continuing resolution (CR), extending funding at current 2023 levels through Jan. 19 for parts of the government, and through Feb. 2 for the remainder. The Senate is expected to pass the measure as soon as Wednesday evening.
The CR buys Congress several months to negotiate the 2024 appropriations bills, which are moving with varied degrees of speed and success through both chambers. But the short-term spending extension has also infuriated House conservatives, who are demanding separate passage of each of the 12 appropriations bills even as they’ve torpedoed several of those proposals on the House floor.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), former head of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus, said the CR has weakened the Republicans’ hand, making it harder for the party to negotiate a 2024 funding deal with Democrats early next year.
“You’ve just taken away all the leverage,” Biggs said. “And there’s now no incentive for the Senate to finish their work, and even no incentive for some of our team to finish the work.”
In the most recent blow-up, conservatives on Wednesday blocked the rule underlying the GOP’s proposal for funding Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies — a surprise move that prompted GOP leaders to cancel additional votes and adjourn the House a day early for the long Thanksgiving recess.
“That just tells you that they just can’t govern, when you can’t even pass a rule,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a 10-term veteran. “The Freedom Caucus — they’re playing hardball.”
The spending battle had led directly to the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and it now poses the starkest challenge for his replacement, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), who took the gavel just three weeks ago.
Heading into the 2024 funding deadlines, Johnson will be squeezed between conservatives in his own conference, who are demanding that he slash spending below 2023 levels, and Democrats in the House, Senate and White House who are balking at anything less than the spending figures negotiated by McCarthy in the debt ceiling agreement.
Bowing to the conservatives would all but ensure a government shutdown — and risk a political backlash against the GOP in a presidential election year. Compromising with Democrats to keep the government open could prompt an effort to boot Johnson from the Speakership.
Jeffries, for his part, is showing little sympathy for Johnson’s dilemma.
“They can’t even pass their own bills,” he said, “so why are we wasting time when we have top-line spending numbers established in May through the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act that the House Republicans themselves negotiated?”