WASHINGTON — Far-right Republicans tried their hand at governing this week, cutting a government funding deal with center-right lawmakers in hopes of breaking a logjam of their own making as Congress lurches toward a potential shutdown on Sept. 30.
House Republicans released the bill Sunday night, aiming to corral enough GOP support to pass in a floor vote, but in a twist several rank-and-file ultraconservative lawmakers blasted the deal as too weak. Now, it's at risk of falling apart.
“It’s an unmitigated disaster right now on the majority side,” Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., a member of the Appropriations Committee, said Monday on NBC’s "Meet The Press NOW."
“Time is running out on us, but it’s clear from last night’s conference call, and the ensuing social media remarks by a handful of members...it does not have the sufficient votes right now in the House of Representatives to pass.”
The irony isn't lost on mainstream Republicans, who have repeatedly watched the the far-right Freedom Caucus try to impose its will through implausible demands and shoot down compromises designed to keep the government funded and functioning.
“Governing is hard,” said former Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., a moderate who served from 2005 to 2018 and clashed with the far right. “Life’s tough. You can’t get everything you want in this world.”
The deal was brokered by Freedom Caucus leaders including the chairman, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Byron Donalds, R-Fla., and Main Street Caucus leaders, Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Stephanie Bice, R-Okla. It would fund the government until Oct. 31 to buy more time for a long-term measure, while imposing an 8% cut to domestic programs, with exceptions for the Pentagon and veterans, and include a swath of restrictive immigration policies that are popular on the right.
Even if the bill were to pass the House, where Republicans control a thin majority, it would die in the Democratic-led Senate, said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who called it a “slapdash and reckless” measure that resembles a “Freedom Caucus wish list.”
Still, rank-and-file right-wing members like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Dan Bishop, R-N.C., Eli Crane, R-Ariz., and others said they'll reject the deal, holding to their red line of refusing to support stopgap bills that fall short of their goals.
Freedom Caucus leaders are frustrated that those members are unwilling to accept compromises to secure the votes.
“Unfortunately, some of my colleagues don’t think that’s good enough. They want to hide behind some other rhetoric. They want to try to find, oh, we need to do more on DOJ, or do more on this or that or the other. There’s no Ukraine supplemental, there’s no disaster emergency supplemental,” Roy told conservative radio host Guy Benson on Monday. “There’s simply a strong bill.”
Donalds, sporting aviators as he walked into Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office on Monday said, “For my colleagues who disagree, I would ask them: What’s your plan? What’s your strategy?”
GOP moderates over the years have pleaded with the Freedom Caucus and hard-right members to take small wins, propose viable alternatives, and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, often to no avail.
“We’ve heard that before,” Dent chuckled. “You know, ‘I’m voting against the bill because of what’s not in it.’ ... When you’re the guy negotiating the bill and you want the bill, then that’s funny how your politics become very situational — judge what’s in the bill! We used to say that all the time.”
The bill has now divided a group of Republicans that initially opposed McCarthy as speaker, with some, like Roy and Donalds, opting to take the lead on negotiations, with others digging in their heels. Donalds sparred with Gaetz about it online.
Asked if he sees it as his job to deliver Freedom Caucus votes for the bill he negotiated, Perry said: “It’s the whip’s job to count the votes. Members deliver their own votes.”
Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-Minn., said his team will whip votes on the measure, calling it a “work in progress.”
House Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole, R-Okla., said he has the votes to approve the bill in committee but he’s unsure whether it can advance in the full House.
With a Sept. 30 deadline on the horizon, fears of a government shutdown are rising among senior Republicans.
“They can ill afford to fumble or else they’re going to have to rely on the left to come get those votes,” Womack said. “I question whether or not we can’t even get a rule passed on it. And that means that we’re going to fool around here another week accomplish absolutely nothing. All the while, the country is headed toward shutdown.”