An Air Force MQ-9 Reaper fires a missile over the Nevada Test and Training Range at Nellis Air Force Base on Aug. 30, 2023. (Air Force Airman 1st Class Victoria Nuzzi/Department of Defense)
WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans sidetracked debate on the massive Defense spending bill at the last minute on Wednesday, removing it from the daily schedule just as the chamber gaveled into session.
The decision follows public opposition from especially conservative Republicans to advancing any government funding measure in the absence of a written commitment from House GOP leaders to cut spending below what was in the bipartisan debt limit agreement.
The move further sets back efforts to pass the dozen annual government funding bills, as members of Congress scramble to avert a partial government shutdown before the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
Virginia Rep. Bob Good, a Freedom Caucus member, said Wednesday morning before the schedule change that he would oppose the rule for the Defense spending bill amid frustration that Republican leaders have not detailed a clear plan to get all 12 spending bills to total $1.471 trillion.
“I think there’s a lot of my conservative colleagues who share that view that we want to see how the entire puzzle fits together,” Good said. “And what the commitment is to make sure that the other bills that we bring to the floor are going to get us there.”
In the U.S. House, a rule must be adopted by the chamber before lawmakers can begin debate on major legislation and take a vote. It is uncommon for the House not to adopt a rule.
House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, indicated Tuesday the group would block the Defense spending bill from moving forward.
House Rules Chair Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and senior appropriator, encouraged his colleagues to support the rule for the Defense spending bill during a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning in the basement of the U.S. Capitol.
“I’ve heard no complaints about the bill,” Cole told reporters. “It’s all about something else that’s unrelated to the bill. Why don’t we just deal with everything in front of us — the rule and the bill?”
The rule for the Defense appropriations bill approved 184 amendments for floor debate and votes.
President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year in the debt limit agreement, and Congress approved those numbers following bipartisan votes in each chamber.
But conservatives pressed the House Appropriations Committee to draft its spending bills to much lower funding levels, eliciting objections from Democrats who argue the GOP is violating the spending agreement.
The House passed the Military Construction-VA spending bill before leaving for its August recess, but had to pull the Agriculture funding measure from the floor schedule amid conservative objections to the overall spending plan and funding totals they say aren’t low enough.
The Senate began debating a broadly bipartisan three-bill spending package this week that includes the Agriculture, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD spending bills.
Neither the Senate nor the House will be able to wrap up work on all 12 of the annual government funding bills before the end-of-September deadline.
That makes a short-term stopgap spending bill necessary if Congress is going to avoid a partial government shutdown. But, conservative Republicans in the House and a couple from the Senate seem in favor of shutting down the government as a way to press for their proposed cuts to some federal spending.
Cole said a shutdown isn’t likely to achieve anything, especially given that a substantial number of lawmakers don’t want a funding lapse.
“I understand the frustrations of people that are arguing for a shutdown,” Cole said. “What I can’t see is how it gets them to the goal that they’re concerned about.”
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