© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute

Republicans Are Very Busy With Bills That Are Going to Die Immediately

The House GOP is chewing up its days — and the days of House Democrats — with appropriations bills that everyone knows won’t become law.

Mike Johnson, Chip Roy
Speaker Mike Johnson and Rep. Chip Roy walk to an event outside the Capitol. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The House lawmakers tasked with funding the government stuffed themselves into a crowded hearing room on Wednesday, broke out some potato chips, and debated a bill they know has no chance of becoming law.

As they sifted through the piles of proposed amendments — and the chips — they argued all the familiar issues: whether to slash government spending, whether to support climate change initiatives, and whether it’s actually necessary for Congress to ban the State Department from using money on drag performances.

It’s neither dirty nor a secret that appropriations bills are going nowhere anytime soon.

Nobody seriously expects Congress to pass all 12 regular spending measures this election year — but lawmakers are forging ahead anyway, pretending their work may end up as the template for a future compromise, even as House Republicans are writing the bills to funding levels below the numbers they agreed to with Democrats.

Members swear the fake process could morph into something genuine. For now, it’s Schrödinger’s spending negotiations: They might be real. They might also not be.

“The goal is to get these done,” Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Washington Republican, told NOTUS as he took a break from the State Department and foreign operations funding markup on Wednesday. “We won’t get it by the end of September, but we’ll have it done this calendar year.”

“This is very serious,” he added. “We’re not just going through the motions.”

As the House Appropriations Committee prepares its slate of bills to kick off hypothetical talks with the Senate, Republican leaders are debating whether they even want to make a good faith effort at funding the government next fiscal year, which begins in October, or if they just want to admit that the process will end in an extension of current spending into early 2025.

In election years, Congress often punts on these sorts of spending decisions until members know who will be the next president. Republicans hope a GOP president (and a united Republican Congress) will enact more conservative bills. They’re having “lots of thoughtful discussion” about whether to delay until the next Congress, House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters on Wednesday.

Johnson isn’t ruling out passing full government funding bills this year. (Republicans would have to get those bills through the Democratic Senate and signed by President Joe Biden — a tall order.) But the speaker argues getting them done this year could free up bandwidth for other GOP priorities next year.

“That would encumber the calendar a little bit, if we’re having to deal with appropriations in the first hundred days when we have all these other things we want to be doing,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday.

Other Republicans scoffed at that viewpoint. “Surrender now to fight later,” Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio said when asked about Johnson’s comments. “Same play as always.”

“The Republicans should be seeking a short-term CR until about March 1,” Davidson told NOTUS. “That gives us the chance to start the Trump agenda faster.”

Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, likewise said if it’s a choice between “a lame-duck, massive omnibus, Christmas pressure bill” or returning to the issue next year, he’d prefer the latter.

“We’re going to be able to do a lot more in February under President Trump than under President Biden in the lame duck,” he said.

“I’m fine passing full-year spending bills this year if you can get them done,” he added. But, he told NOTUS, “nobody’s shown me the path to getting them done out of the House, much less the Senate.”

Appropriations Committee Chairman Tom Cole said it’s difficult for GOP leaders to manage such a closely divided chamber. “As I always point out to our members, it’s tougher for them than us,” Cole said of the conference’s vote counters, noting the party has a larger majority in the committee room than Republicans do on the floor.

When asked about the debate over delaying until the new year, Cole said it’s “really up to our leadership to make that call.”

“I would not be surprised to see us do a CR in late September. I would hope then — probably the winners of the election make the decision — that we finish the process up before the end of the year,” he said.

Cole added that it’s “really not wise” to kick spending decisions into a new year with a new Congress — a position that puts him at odds with conservatives.

He’d prefer to hammer out the details to finish out the 118th Congress. Either way, Cole expressed optimism.

“Sooner or later, you’ve got to fund the government,” he said. “So we’ll get it done.”

Haley Byrd Wilt is a reporter at NOTUS.