Only with Dem support, House OKs short-term federal funding bill
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., meets with reporters ahead of a crucial vote on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded at its current levels, a measure not heartily supported by the hard right wing of his party, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023. | Mariam Zuhaib/AP

WASHINGTON—With huge Democratic support, the Republican-run House approved a new short-term two-tiered “laddered” funding bill to keep the government going and the lights on through early next year.

Despite the defection of the MAGAite so-called House “Freedom Caucus,” lawmakers voted 336-95 for the money bill under special rules mandating it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. Democrats backed the measure, called a continuing resolution (CR), 209-2. The Republican majority split 127-93.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promptly backed the CR, crafted by the new House Speaker, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La.

“We would like to do it as soon as possible,” Schumer told reporters on Capitol Hill. “Both McConnell and I want to avoid a shutdown, so getting this done obviously before Friday at midnight” was needed. “McConnell and I are going to work together–we talked about this yesterday–to get it done as quickly as possible.”

Johnson, like all but a handful of House Republicans, is a Donald Trump MAGAite. On morning news shows the day of the vote, he endorsed “The Donald’s” run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.  If he gets the nod, it would be Trump’s third straight White House bid.

Unlike what happened to his predecessor in the Speaker’s chair, Rep, Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., other MAGAites gave Johnson a pass on this vote since he’s been Speaker for only a few weeks. Rabid MAGAites unseated McCarthy for working with the Democrats on the prior “clean” CR.

Still, the worst of the MAGAites, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., warned Johnson had better come back within 90 days with big spending cuts or Gaetz would try to unseat him, too.

Congress faced a midnight November 17 deadline to pass the measure to keep the government going, the lights on and all functions, not just key ones, running. Had it not passed, some 787,000 “essential” federal workers, such as air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Officers, would have had to keep toiling without pay.

That’s what happened during the last long shutdown, for 35 days during the Republican Trump regime. Trump and the right-wingers forced the government to close as a way to strong-arm solons into funding his racist Mexican Wall. Trump failed then, and the right-wingers failed on that aim in this CR, too. In tweets, Trump backed this shutdown.

But had the government shut, other workers, such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors, and National Labor Relations Board workers, and Securities and Exchange Commission investigators, accountants and attorneys who keep sharp eyes on the corporate crooks in and out of the financial sector, would have been sent home. With no pay.

That shutdown outcome would please the Wall Street financiers and the corporate CEOs who through their right-wing lobbying groups, oppose all government interference with their exploitation of workers and robbery of consumers.

Coming up against the gun

With lawmakers coming up against the gun, unions, especially members of the Government Employees (AFGE), led the lobbying for the “clean” CR with no Republican poison pills. Transportation Security Officers, who are AFGE members, led other unionists in informational protests at three major airports—Sacramento, Atlanta and Dallas—where they explained the stakes.

“Our work is essential to keeping the American economy running,” James Mudrock, president of AFGE 1230, which represents Sacramento Airport’s TSOs, told the crowd there.

“If a shutdown does happen, TSOs will continue to do their jobs, unpaid. Our workers have rent payments, mortgages, and families to take care of. Expecting them to do this vital work for no wages is absurd and demeaning for the people who protect our skies.”

Now indications are they won’t have to do so unpaid.

Under Johnson’s “laddered” CR, several departments and high-profile programs—including energy and water projects, military construction and the departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs—would be funded through January 19.

The other agencies and programs, including those in the most-controversial domestic department, Health and Human Services, would be funded through February 2. But not everyone, especially the Freedom Caucus right-wingers, got what they wanted.

The right-wingers sought deep domestic spending cuts, death of dozens of programs, including the Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, and elimination of money for Planned Parenthood counseling programs and an end to diversity offices scattered through agencies. They also demanded money for Trump’s Mexican Wall.

They also required an 80% cut in aid to the nation’s schools and a freeze on Pell Grants. Those and other cuts led education unions to join in the lobbying against the GOP version of the eventual money bill for the departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services.

Those cuts aren’t in the CR. Neither are “poison pill” right-wing social issue demands. Neither is Trump’s wall. But when debate began on the regular money bill for Education, Labor and HHS, it showed Johnson has more hurdles to jump over next year. Right-wing social issues festoon it.

Instead, the CR also keeps spending at higher levels enacted by the prior, Democratic-run Congress, angering the Freedom Caucus. Those same provisions brought the Democrats in both the House and Senate aboard. But the CR doesn’t fund Democratic President Joe Biden’s demand for more than $100 billion in new military aid for Ukraine and $14 billion in military aid for Israel.

“A continuing resolution is a bridge to a final agreement. It should be judged on how it helps facilitate our goal, which is to update the spending levels for full-year bills…for 2024,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the top Democrat on the Republican-run House Appropriations Committee, which writes full-year funding bills—or tries to.

“A so-called, quote, laddered bill, makes it harder to reach a final agreement. Why? It doubles the likelihood of future shutdowns. In a time of global crisis, we should promote stability, not chaos,” she warned. DeLauro wound up voting for the laddered CR. So did all but two other Democrats.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.