House Speaker Johnson Is Running Out of Time to Avoid Shutdown

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(Bloomberg) -- Speaker Mike Johnson, the little-known Louisiana congressman who emerged from a hardliner revolt as House Republicans’ new leader, is short on both time and experience to avert a US government shutdown.

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The novice to major Washington negotiations had planned to release as soon as Thursday his proposal for temporary government funding, but intense infighting among Republicans threatens to delay any spending plan.

The new speaker has barely a week before the shutdown deadline to make his opening gambit and choose how far to go in his demands to bolster his support among ultra-conservatives who ousted his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy.

The House plans to vote on Tuesday on the plan, lawmakers said. If Johnson’s plan demands immediate cuts he will provoke a standoff with the Democratic Senate which will refuse to go along.

President Joe Biden expressed frustration with Johson’s slow pace as he boarded Air Force One late Thursday morning for a trip to Rockford, Illinois.

“I wish the House would just get to work,” Biden told reporters. “The idea we’re playing games with a shutdown at this moment is just bizarre.”

GOP Divisions

Members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus are dug in on demands that Biden make concessions to conservative policy goals in return for a short-term reprieve from a shutdown, according to a senior Republican official familiar with internal discussions.

Johnson will need the support of virtually all Republicans unless he offers a bipartisan plan acceptable to Democrats. He can only afford four defections on a party-line vote.

Virgina Representative Bob Good, who voted to oust McCarthy, said Freedom Caucus members want Johnson to leverage the temporary funding to require immediate spending cuts and changes to US asylum laws.

“We’ve got to get our spending under control and our border secured,” he said.

But divisions among Republicans over spending have repeatedly scuttled efforts to pass the 12 full-year spending measures that ordinarily fund the government and were due Oct. 1.

On Thursday, the infighting derailed plans to vote on annual funding for the Treasury Department and financial service regulators. Leaders canceled the vote at the last minute because of objections from both GOP moderates and hardliners.

Johnson had to pull a transportation spending bill earlier this week.

Top spending panel Democrat Rosa DeLauro said the troubles Johnson has passing GOP-only spending bills show he’s engaged in an “exercise in futility” and the best approach is to engage in immediate bipartisan talks with Democrats.

Johnson is enjoying a honeymoon period with conservative rebels so bucking them may not lead to an immediate ouster.

“If Mike Johnson tells me it’s going to snow in August, I’m headed down to Mayo’s in Knoxville to buy me a sled,” said Tennessee’s Tim Burchett, one of the rebels who ousted McCarthy. Burchett said conservatives are willing to give Johnson some latitude for now.

One idea being pushed by conservatives is to set up a series of separate shutdown deadlines by funding some government agencies to through Dec. 7 and others to Jan. 19. Another two-step option has end dates in January and February.

The two-step options are running into skepticism from more traditional Republicans and appropriators who worry it could foster chaos at agencies with differing shutdown dates.

Senate Outlook

In the Senate, hopes to combine temporary funding to keep open the government with emergency aid for Israel and Ukraine are fading because of a dispute over border policies. That makes it likely that the Senate will only have the votes to pass short-term funding without additional conditions.

Rank-and-file senators have tried to reach a compromise on new asylum rules and border policy changes.

But Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who is involved in the immigration talks, told reporters not to expect an agreement on the issue before the Nov. 18 shutdown deadline.

Top Senate spending panel Republican Susan Collins said she wants a stopgap into December as she works to craft a combined Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and border bill in the coming weeks.

--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs.

(Updates with Biden comments, hardliners dug in on demands beginning with fifth paragraph)

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