WASHINGTON — After having trashed the idea of a two-step strategy to fund the government, House Democrats signaled Monday they are open to backing Speaker Mike Johnson's plan, significantly lowering the threat of a painful shutdown at the end of the week.
With a handful of conservatives rebelling against the stopgap funding bill, it means Johnson, R-La., must get help from Democrats to get it through the chamber.
On Monday afternoon, House Democratic leaders said they are considering supporting the Johnson strategy. And across the Capitol, Johnson's plan got a bipartisan boost from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., suggesting the continuing resolution, or CR, is likely to cruise through the Senate if it can first pass out of the House. The House plans to take up the bill Tuesday.
Shortly after Johnson unveiled his “laddered” CR over the weekend, the White House panned it as an “extreme” and “unserious proposal” that would lead to more GOP chaos and dysfunction shortly after the party’s three-week speaker debacle.
But Monday, President Joe Biden would not commit to veto Johnson’s laddered CR if it came to his desk.
“I’m not going to make a judgment on what I’d veto and what I’d sign. Let’s see what they come up with,” Biden told reporters.
It's a remarkable reversal for Democrats. Just four days ago, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., ripped the laddered CR concept, saying neither Democrats nor the American public could understand it.
"The notion of a laddered CR is another extreme, right-wing policy joyride that is reckless and would only crash and burn the federal government," Jeffries said at his weekly news conference Thursday. "It's a nonstarter."
But Johnson's proposal is a so-called "clean" CR with no spending cuts and no controversial policy riders, a significant concession to Democratic demands.
The two-step approach would extend funding for part of the government — including the Agriculture, Transportation and Veterans Affairs departments — through Jan. 19 and fund the Defense Department and other remaining parts of the government through Feb. 2.
In a letter to colleagues Monday, Jeffries said that Congress' central mission is to keep the government funded and that top Democratic leaders "are carefully evaluating the proposal set forth by Republican leadership and discussing it with Members."
It's clear that Johnson will need to rely on Democrats to pass his first major legislation, given his razor-thin majority and the mounting GOP defections.
Already, at least eight House conservatives have said they will vote no on Johnson’s plan, and many more could join that group. After Rep.-elect Gabe Amo, D-R.I., is sworn in Monday, Johnson can afford to lose only three Republicans on his funding bill.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than a shutdown,” he said.
In addition to delaying a fight over spending cuts until next year, the Johnson CR does not include other politically prickly issues like aid for Israel, Ukraine or Taiwan; humanitarian aid for Palestinians and others; and border security provisions.
Those fights will be punted until after Thanksgiving.
It would, however, extend the farm bill through Sept. 30 — a big sweetener for rural lawmakers and Democrats who like federal food and nutrition programs for low-income families.
The two-part CR had been conceived by members of the far-right Freedom Caucus who see the staggered funding cliffs as a way to put pressure on Congress to reach deals on individual appropriations bills. But conservatives blasted the Johnson plan for a variety of reasons, including that it didn't include spending cuts or border provisions.
"We got nothing, nothing but an extension of the farm bill tagged onto a $1.6 trillion continuation of existing spending policies," Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, told reporters Monday. "I can in no way sell that to a single one of my constituents."
Other conservative Republicans opposing Johnson’s CR plan include Reps. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Warren Davidson of Ohio, Bob Good of Virginia, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and George Santos of New York.
“I will not support a status quo that fails to acknowledge fiscal irresponsibility, and changes absolutely nothing while emboldening a do-nothing Senate and a fiscally illiterate President,” Perry, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said on X.
An early test for Johnson's proposal will come Tuesday, when the House takes up the rule for the CR. Rules, which govern how legislation comes to the floor, are typically passed by the majority party, but in this case, Johnson may need some Democrats to pass the rule.
More than 50 Democrats helped Republicans pass the rule on legislation to raise the debt ceiling in May. A GOP aide said leadership is also considering advancing the CR "under suspension," which would require two-thirds support of the whole House if it doesn't have the GOP votes to pass the rule.
Senators had been devising a Plan B to keep the government open, but it now appears they may not need to. Schumer announced Monday evening that the Senate was "pausing on our plans" to allow the House to move first.
"I've said on multiple occasions that if we're going to work together to keep the government open, Speaker Johnson will have to avoid pushing steep cuts or poison pills that Democrats can't support," Schumer said in a floor speech. "For now, I am pleased that Speaker Johnson is moving in our direction."