Budget Bill Passes House

[ Posted Tuesday, November 14th, 2023 – 17:17 UTC ]

The House of Representatives actually did their job today -- which is surprising enough right there -- but the truly shocking part (to me, at any rate) is that they did so three whole days early! America is facing the possibility of a government shutdown just after midnight Friday, which normally would have resulted in a standoff right up until the last possible minute -- followed by a legislative frenzy to get something on President Joe Biden's desk to avoid the shutdown. That the House passed a bill late on Tuesday seems like progress, at least using the measuring stick of how things normally happen in one of these standoffs.

The vote was 336-95, with 209 Democrats and 127 Republicans voting for it and two Democrats and 93 Republicans voting against it. Although this is very similar to what Speaker Kevin McCarthy did in the last round of "shutdown showdown," it seems for the moment that Speaker Mike Johnson will be able to keep his job afterwards. The hotheads in the GOP seem to be giving Johnson a free pass on how he passed the bill (and what it contains), due mostly to him inheriting the entire situation right at the beginning of his speakership. Or perhaps they just don't want to go through the chaos of trying to pick another speaker right away. For whatever reason, Johnson's job appears safe -- for now, at least.

The continuing resolution (C.R.) that passed the House today has a gimmick at the heart of it, but as legislative gimmicks go it's a fairly benign one. Speaker Mike Johnson came up with the idea as a way of convincing the hardliners in his caucus that he was taking their concerns into account -- but without adding things that would kill any chance of the bill passing either the House or the Senate.

The C.R. is a "clean" one, meaning it has not been larded up with a bunch of Republican poison pills and it continues the current spending levels rather than instituting drastic across-the-board cuts. That's exactly what Democrats wanted, and that's what they got.

But it has a new twist to it. Instead of just setting a date at some future point when we'll all be facing another government shutdown again, it sets two dates. The 12 appropriations bills that make up the federal budget will be divided into two groups. The first group will have a drop-dead date of January 19th, while the second group will get a few extra weeks and won't turn into a pumpkin until February 2nd.

Johnson calls this a "laddered" approach, although in the end his ladder wound up having only two steps on it. Originally he had proposed a separate deadline for each of the appropriations bills, one after the other. This would probably have resulted in chaos, so he was convinced to dial that idea back to just two deadlines.

I'm not exactly sure, but this may have been done in order to avoid a gigantic "omnibus" bill, which the hardliners really hate. The way the budget usually gets resolved (this is not the way it is supposed to be resolved, mind you, just recent history) is that the leaders meet in back rooms and hash out all the deals and then present an enormous single bill to their members which they can either vote up or down on. This "take it or leave it" tactic usually works, but it annoys all the members who aren't actually in the back rooms for the final wheeling and dealing. The House Republicans have been making a big show of passing each appropriations bill individually (as they were supposed to have completed by the start of October), so the whole "laddered" scheme was supposed to avoid getting an omnibus. But in practical terms, what will almost certainly happen in January and February is that we will instead get two (smaller) omnibus bills, each one dealing with all the departments that are facing a deadline. So the entire gimmick is probably not going to achieve that much, in terms of changing the parliamentary process. But hey, if it's enough to assuage all the GOP hardliners, then it'll have done some good at least.

So the Democrats got their main ask -- a completely clean C.R. -- while the Republicans got their pointless gimmick. That's a pretty good tradeoff, which is why so many House Democrats voted for it. The Republicans also got the guarantee of a calm holiday break at the end of the year, instead of the deadline being drawn in late December (which is a common tactic to light a fire under everybody, since if they don't get their work done, they don't get to go on vacation). Pushing the deadlines out to mid-January and early February avoids this.

Democrats also got a big reassurance in the division of the departments. The Democrats were concerned that the Republicans would pass the Defense Department appropriations bill in the first round and then go ahead and shut the rest of the government down. Passing the Pentagon budget would mean soldiers would get their paychecks on time, and this would avoid a big public relations headache for the Republicans. But the Defense appropriations bill will be part of the second group of bills, which addressed the Democrats' concerns.

In the end, almost all of the Democrats voted for the bill even with the gimmick in it, because the gimmick is kind of pointless and the rest of the bill was exactly what they wanted. The GOP hardliners were denied their demands to pass a C.R. with drastic cuts in it, and the government will keep the lights on through mid-January at least.

This isn't really worth much in the way of celebration, considering that this is the second time Congress is kicking the can down the road rather than doing its job on time. The federal budget was supposed to be in place at the beginning of October, and now won't be in place until January and February. But at least this round seems to be going smoothly, with the House passing their measure with plenty of time for the Senate to act on it and get it on Biden's desk without a whole lot of last-minute drama on Friday night. That is an improvement, albeit a very small one.

Because Speaker Johnson had only been in the job for three weeks, the Republicans gave him this one as a sort of "Mulligan." But they likely won't be as forgiving the next time around, when the real battle over spending is fought in earnest between the House and the Senate. And because the Draconian budget cuts the House GOP hardliners are pushing for are never going to fly in the Democratic Senate, this is going to mean Johnson will likely have to pass budget bills that enrage the hardliners in his own caucus. And his "honeymoon period" will be over, at that point. Will Johnson still be speaker by Valentine's Day? Your guess is as good as mine. But for the moment, it is looking like federal workers won't have to deal with their paychecks stopping right before the Thanksgiving holiday, so that is indeed something to be grateful for.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


9 Comments on “Budget Bill Passes House”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So, I'm guessing that any money for Israel and Ukraine - in separate bills, of course - will come in the second or third round next year.

    But, Ukraine is living from handout to handout so the situation there is critical through to the end of the year.

    Perhaps, it is time for peace negotiations with the problem being that Ukraine probably won't get as good a deal as was in the cards and brokered by Israel of all nations that Z rejected during the early days of this futile war on the advice of ... wait for it ... his American so-called friends.

    Hopefully, Ukrainian leaders have learned their lesson, albeit the hardest way possible, not to rely so heavily on the advice of the US which clearly has only its own narrow interests at heart and not those of Ukraine and its people.

    As for Israel, annexation of Gaza - the northern half, at least - may be complete by the end of year, without needing more financial support from the US until the new year. Which is so NOT in the national security interests of America and Americans but, what are ya gonna do? ;)

  2. [2] 
    dsws wrote:

    It is possible for a country to win its independence from an empire while being dependent on foreign support. Didn't turn out too well for the French regime, though. 1783 they inflicted a revolution on their rival, and 1789 they had one of their own.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Israel does not appear to be planning to annex Gaza. Their mission is pretty narrow, to destroy the organization that attacked, murdered and kidnapped their people. After that, I don't think they even know what they want to do with the place.

  4. [4] 
    Kick wrote:


    Johnson calls this a "laddered" approach, although in the end his ladder wound up having only two steps on it.

    So it's actually a step stool... suits them.

    Originally he had proposed a separate deadline for each of the appropriations bills, one after the other.

    Can't meet a single deadline so why not multiply that by a factor of twelve? /sarcasm And that idiotic "reasoning" right there is why these Trumpublican clowns cannot and will not ever be able to govern.

    This would probably have resulted in chaos, so he was convinced to dial that idea back to just two deadlines.

    Two deadlines they can never and will never meet without help from Democrats... because they cannot govern.

  5. [5] 
    dsws wrote:

    We have omnibus bills because they work. Something gets passed, eventually, that a majority of representatives can live with, the Senate can refrain from killing with a filibuster, and the president can sign (or at worst, allow to become law without a signature when the Constitutionally allotted ten days, Sundays excepted). We don't have them because they're such a wonderful way of legislating that everyone loves them. If Johnson et al. can make it work with semi-omnibus bills instead, that's fine as far as I can see.

    I don't consider them a mere gimmick. What you can pass (if anything) with two different majorities for the different parts is likely to be different from what you can pass as one big TINA omnibus bill. Ideally, every legislator would have equal potential to influence policy, with the amount actualized being a function of how persuasive their colleagues find them to be, and how far their constituents trust them to make deals that have good parts and bad parts but are good deals overall from the constituents' point of view -- or rather, from the point of view that the constituents trust that they would have if they had to get close enough to see how the sausage is made.

    Theoretically, good legislation isn't what you get when the right people win. It's what you get when no one loses too badly, when the legislative session is taken as a whole. The right to political representation is a right, and the thing about rights is that the bad guys have them too. If they only went to those whom someone deems to be good guys, they would be privileges, not rights.

    One big omnibus bill seems more likely to generate overall losers, than if they could pass a dozen bills with different majorities, where everyone gets a reasonable chance to be in the majority at least some of the time.

  6. [6] 
    dsws wrote:

    Hmm, that first paragraph break separates a pronoun from its antecedent. "Them" in the first sentence of the second paragraph refers to semi-omnibus bills.

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    A peace deal is needed, you say? Why not enforce the existing peace deal that’s been in effect since 1994?

    That’s when the Budapest Memorandum was signed by Ukraine and Russia, the UK and America guaranteeing Ukraine’s borders in exchange for all the nukes they inherited upon (overwhelmingly) declaring independence.

    Russia broke this arrangement in 2014 when it annexed Crimea. How is it not incumbent on the West to honor their agreements?

    Also, why would anyone whatsoever trust any deal with Putin? Most experts believe that it would merely allow Putin to build up and then continue the campaign.

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    And again, you keep blaming Russian revanchism on America and the West.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:



    I does look kinda weird, doesn't it.

    It's so funny - in a good way - how we all secretly, ahem, wish for an edit function.

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