Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
Typically, when the federal government passes any major spending bill, journalists dedicate countless words to breaking down the ins and outs of the legislation.
When it comes to the recently passed stopgap bill, that custom can largely be ignored. Newly elected Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) delivered on his promise to address the funding of the federal government in such a way that it can be summarized in two words: status quo.
Nothing of substance changed, virtually no one in either party came away feeling like a winner, and the long-standing fight between Republicans and Democrats over governmental spending was punted.
There were no elements that would have caused controversy on either side of the aisle. That means no funding for Ukraine or Israel and no steps made to enhance U.S. border security.
In other words, it was truly a stopgap bill.
“We just had to get the job done,” a succinct Johnson said after the vote passed 336-95 in the House on Tuesday.
On paper, the bill is simple. It maintains spending for most of the government through Jan. 19 with the Department of Defense being covered through Feb. 2.
Having passed the lower chamber on Tuesday, the bill sailed through the Senate, where only 10 Republicans and a single Democrat, Colorado’s Michael Bennett, voted no compared to 87 senators who voted yes.
“I have good news for the American people: There will be no government shutdown this Friday night,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) posted on X Wednesday. “Because of bipartisan cooperation, we are keeping the government open without any poison pills or harmful cuts to vital programs.”
In real terms, the new bill served the same purpose for two entities. It buys time for the legislature to continue working out its spending differences and Johnson to prove he can muster the support of his party as well as members of the other to fund the government in a way agreeable to the majority of elected officials in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve been drinking from Niagara Falls the last three weeks,” Johnson said. “This will allow everybody to go home for a couple of days for Thanksgiving, everybody cool off.”
At present, Johnson cannot boast of holding the hearts of his fellow conservatives. The right-leaning Freedom Caucus largely rejected the stopgap bill and it took 209 Democrats partnering with 127 Republicans to get the bill the Senate.
Indeed, pushing through a bill that succeeded on the backs of Democrats puts in jeopardy Johnson’s long-held standing as a hardline conservative. He rose to power by leaning on his traditionalist bonafides, but quickly compromised with the left to get a bill passed.
And he will not be able to count on those Democratic votes in the House or a cooperative Senate next time.
Democratic leaders made no secret of the fact they supported the bill reluctantly.
“House Democrats have repeatedly articulated that any continuing resolution must be set at the fiscal year 2023 spending level, be devoid of harmful cuts and free of extreme right-wing policy riders,” a joint statement from Democratic leaders on Tuesday read. “The continuing resolution before the House today meets that criteria and we will support it.”
However, Johnson is banking on what he calls a two-step continuing resolution allowing him to curry favor with the Freedom Caucus. Essentially, the current stopgap bill is phase 1 of the Johnson strategy, with phase 2 being an actual showdown with the Biden administration in the new year.
“The passage of today’s continuing resolution puts House Republicans in the best position to fight for conservative policy victories,” Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday. “The innovative two-step approach takes Washington’s preferred Christmas omnibus monstrosity off the table, shifts the government funding paradigm moving forward, and enhances our ability to rein in the Biden administration’s failed policies and government spending. We also are better positioned in the upcoming supplemental debate to demand Border Security, ensure oversight of Ukraine aid, and support our cherished ally, Israel.”
However, in his quest to court the conservative vote, Johnson will necessarily be alienating many, if not all, of the 200-plus Democrats who helped make the current resolution a reality.
Johnson, like Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy before him, faces a problem that is simple enough to understand but profoundly difficult to solve.
The divided Congress wants different things, and both parties have enough votes in either or both chambers to disrupt or outright torpedo just about anything.
And the more outspoken elements of either party have already expressed that they are dug in on their positions.
In a statement, the Freedom Caucus said the stopgap bill “contains no spending reductions, no border security, and not a single meaningful win for the American People.”
The right will be looking for those wins come 2024.
But at the same time, Democrats will be suitably motivated to preserve President Joe Biden’s plans, which typically come at an exorbitant price.
“Keeping the government open is a good outcome, but we have a lot to do,” Schumer posted on X. “We must finish passing @POTUS’s supplemental with aid to Israel, Ukraine, humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza, funds for the Indo-Pacific. We must complete our work on the annual defense bill.”
Johnson has expressed optimism that he can see a government funding bill through the legislative process, even with stark differences between the two parties.
“We are not surrendering, we are fighting,” Johnson said. “But you have to be wise about choosing the fights. You got to fight fights that you can win. This was a very important first step to get us to the next stage so that we can change how Washington works.”
Johnson’s future as speaker will be tied to his ability to make good on those words.
After the passage of the stopgap bill, right-wing commentator Steve Bannon warned Johson that he faced a finite shelf life if he couldn’t produce wins for the right.
“Christian … biblical viewpoint or not, you’re on the clock,” Bannon said.