The Republican-controlled House had two jobs to complete this week before taking off until Sept. 11. Two appropriations bills were slated to go to the floor and the House was supposed to spend the full week getting them through. Passage of the bills was necessary to give Congress a start on the job of funding the government before the Sept. 30 deadline. Instead, the extremists in and around the Freedom Caucus completely derailed one of the bills, and the House decided to just leave mid-afternoon on Thursday to get an early start on the long break.
That means the bills that are traditionally the easiest to pass—military housing and veterans benefits—will be done and the second easiest—agriculture—will not. The military construction and veterans bill, however, made it to the floor by the skin of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s teeth, and what he had to concede to the hard-liners could very well jeopardize every other spending bill. That’s got the old guard of Republicans spitting mad, particularly the “cardinals” who head up the powerful Appropriations subcommittee. At the other end of the tenure spectrum, the sizable group of vulnerable freshmen in swing districts are angry over the anti-abortion votes they’ve been forced to take.
The military and veterans bill narrowly advanced to the floor on Wednesday when the procedural vote for it passed with no votes to spare, 217-206. One of the conservative hard-liners, Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, claimed his team agreed to allow the bill to move forward because leadership promised to cut the spending levels in the remaining appropriations bills. That got a flat denial from McCarthy.
But the machinations have finally gotten to the old guard, who are getting pretty sick of this shit and are willing to say so on the record. That includes the Appropriations subcommittee chairs—the “cardinals,” like Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, who chairs the Interior-Environment subcommittee. The cuts the extremists are demanding, he told Politico, “won’t pass the House.” He went on to make a remarkable threat for a senior member and appropriator: “I won’t vote for them.”
"Right now, small groups of members can exercise an extraordinary amount of power," Rep. Tom Cole groused. He should know—he has three of them on his powerful Rules Committee, the panel that determines what bills do or don’t make it to the floor. His committee spent hours trying to work through the agriculture bill and ultimately failed.
There are so many Republicans like Simpson who represent farming districts that getting this bill done is usually pretty easy. It’s a huge priority. While there are always fights about food assistance funding from the extremists, there are enough farm state Republicans that the old guard can fight them off, work with the Senate, and get it done. Maybe this is why the old guard is finally saying, “Enough.”
It’s not just the old-timers who are unhappy with what’s been happening in these bills, though. There’s a brewing “revolt” over the anti-abortion poison pills that these funding bills are being loaded up with. In the case of the agriculture bill, which also funds the Food and Drug Administration, it’s the inclusion of an amendment to force the FDA to withdraw approval for abortion pills to be provided by mail.
There are about a dozen of these members, some of them freshmen in swing districts, who are trying to get that provision removed. Axios quotes three of them:
"Some states allow [mifepristone] to be mailed, some states don't, but that should be a decision with the states and the FDA, not Congress," said Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.).
"If that language stays as is, we won't be able to vote for that appropriations [bill]," said Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-Ore.).
Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.) said he told voters he "wasn't looking to disrupt the existing policy" on abortion being a state's issue, adding, "I intend to fulfill that commitment."
Maybe over the long, 47-day “August” recess, the two groups can get together and figure out how to break the Freedom Caucus’ hold over McCarthy. They’ve got the numbers to do it if they’re willing. It’s in their best interest. And unless they get this figured out, the government will shut down.