Plans to stop government shutdown prominent in tight race for House speaker

The plan for the looming shutdown showdown with the Senate emerged as a defining issue separating the two Republicans vying to be the next House speaker.

In a closed-door GOP conference meeting Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio presented starkly different plans for avoiding a government shutdown when current funding expires in five weeks.

It was the one issue separating the two men, who shared similar views on other top issues such as prioritizing the security of the southern border, according to lawmakers at the meeting.

Mr. Jordan offered a plan to pass a six-month stopgap bill to keep the government open and then use the threat of automatic across-the-board spending cuts to force concessions from the Democratic-run Senate. 

Mr. Scalise focused on pushing the 12 annual spending bills through the House, which would put the Senate on defense in the spending debate, likely triggering high-stakes negotiations on the verge of a shutdown.

Any stopgap funding bill had been a nonstarter for hardline conservatives, but their position appeared to be softening.

The House Republican Conference will meet again on Wednesday to nominate a new speaker before the full House votes to elect its next leader.

Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California helped pass a stopgap bill to keep the government open until Nov. 17 and relied on Democratic votes to do it. That move ultimately triggered a procedure to boot him from the position.

At Tuesday’s meeting, both candidates to succeed Mr. McCarthy explained the hard facts of the government funding situation: It is highly unlikely that the House will pass the remaining eight spending bills before the deadline.

Republican lawmakers who previously vowed to vote against a stopgap spending bill, known in congressional jargon as a continuing resolution or CR, suddenly warmed to the idea, said Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina.

“The reality of it is we hadn’t done the job that we should have on appropriations. So where does that leave us? Either go to the CR or you shut it down,” Mr. Norman said. “There’s no appetite to shut it down.”

Mr. Jordan wants to pass a clean, long-term stopgap bill that funds the government for six months. He intends to move the legislation well ahead of the mid-November deadline to give lawmakers more time to finish the remaining spending bills.

That long-term bill would keep the government funded at fiscal 2023 levels. Going that deep into next year would trigger a 1% cut in all spending — a provision baked into the debt ceiling deal brokered by then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden.

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who pressed for the automatic cut provision, posed the question to Mr. Jordan and Mr. Scalise. He said Mr. Jordan’s position would use the 1% cut as leverage against the Senate.

Mr. Scalise’s position was not clear. He proposed to advance the remaining spending bills ahead of the Nov. 17 deadline but offered no real plan on what he would do if the Senate refused to accept them, according to Mr. Massie.

“I’m worried that his plan would result in a shutdown, which doesn’t help Republicans, or an omnibus bill, which would be undoing all the great work that we’ve done here,” Mr. Massie said.

Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust Mr. McCarthy, softened his stance on supporting a stop-gap spending measure after having previously vowed to reject short-term funding bills.

“I’d like to see what’s in it. If it’s just doing the bidding of the tax-and-spend crowd … then I’m not going to be for it,” Mr. Burchett said. “Of course, I’m going to support something that’s fiscally responsible.”

Mr. Jordan’s approach to a spending shutdown was attractive to some of the conference’s moderates, who previously voiced skepticism about Mr. Jordan’s hardliner reputation as a founding member of the Freedom Caucus.

Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska, co-leader of the moderate Problem Solvers Caucus, told reporters he was leaning toward Mr. Scalise but had warmed up to Mr. Jordan after the forum.

“He didn’t come off as the Freedom Caucus guy. He came off as ‘I can represent everybody,’ and he had a, I would say, a straightforward, reasonable plan,” Mr. Bacon said. “And that’s what came across to me. I think he’s grown.”

Mr. McCarthy’s ouster has paralyzed the House, with lawmakers unable to move legislation until a new speaker is elected.

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