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‘It’s Sh*t’: Conservatives Trying to Stave off Spending and Border Disaster

Rep. Chip Roy has some choice words for Republicans who want to spend trillions while the border remains wide open.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 29: Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), flanked b

Less than a week remains before the race for the White House begins in earnest with the January 15 Iowa Caucuses, but Capitol Hill is a bit more focused on two other dates: January 19 and February 2—the days that certain government agencies will enter a shutdown if an agreement on appropriations can’t be reached.

On Sunday afternoon, House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the pair had agreed to a series of funding limits for the current fiscal year, firing the starter pistol for House and Senate appropriators to start working to prevent a government shutdown.

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The agreed upon dollar-figure limit? Depends on whom you ask. 

In a letter to House colleagues, Johnson wrote, “The topline constitutes $1.590 trillion for [fiscal year 2024] — the statutory levels of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. That includes $886 billion for defense and $704 billion for nondefense.” Johnson claimed he negotiated government spending to be at a point $30 billion less than what Senate lawmakers were seeking in previously drafted appropriations legislation. Johnson admitted the deal “will not satisfy everyone, and they do not cut as much spending as many of us would like”; nevertheless, Johnson believes that it is “the most favorable budget agreement Republicans have achieved in over a decade.”

Yet Schumer, joined by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, claimed in a Monday statement that the deal set non-defense discretionary spending levels at $772.7 billion while protecting  “key domestic priorities like veterans benefits, health care and nutrition assistance from the draconian cuts sought by right-wing extremists.”

The House Freedom Caucus gave its own estimate. “It’s even worse than we thought,” the caucus’ twitter account claimed. “Don’t believe the spin. Once you break through the typical Washington math, the true total programmatic spending level is $1.658 trillion—not $1.59 trillion.”

The American Conservative interviewed Rep. Chip Roy of Texas over the phone regarding the proclaimed discrepancies.

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“It's complete garbage to try to sell the American people that this bill is $1.59 trillion,” Roy said. 

“It is true that there were recisions. But that is because we basically took dollars from existing appropriated money—there’s various programs where dollars will be used to continue to fund the government at the higher level,” Roy explained. “So you can say this is only going to score at $1.59 trillion, but that’s not the story. We’re $34 trillion in debt, quibbling over the few billion dollars of savings. You’re not appropriating new money because you're taking it to some other account. That’s not the point. The point is the government is going to be just as big. So it’s disingenuous to say this is $1.59 trillion. You could say it’s net scoring there, but it is a $1.659 trillion government. That’s the problem. We’re funding the tyranny in the bureaucracy. That’s insane.”

What the parties do agree upon, however, is that the figures agreed upon in the new Johnson-Schumer deal approximate the spending levels targeted between President Biden and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the controversial debt-ceiling deal, codified in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (FRA), which eventually played a major role in dooming McCarthy’s brief tenure as speaker. 

“It reflects the funding levels that I negotiated with both parties and signed into law last spring,” President Joe Biden said of the agreement in a subtle victory lap. “It rejects deep cuts to programs hardworking families count on, and provides a path to passing full-year funding bills that deliver for the American people and are free of any extreme policies.”

The deal Johnson and Schumer struck Sunday is even worse than the FRA in Roy’s eyes.

“When we set out a year ago, remember, we were trying to target pre-COVID spending levels—$1.471 trillion was the marker we put down—to try to return to 2019 levels of spending,” Roy told TAC by phone. “Well, then the FRA was cut. Okay, I didn’t love it, but at least some caps got put in place that if we adhere to those caps right now, and we were to go into Congress tomorrow and passing a Continuing Resolution for the rest of the year—full year appropriations at current levels—that level will be $1.562 trillion instead of $1.659 trillion. That’s a big problem, right? Because we’re funding the federal bureaucracy at $100 billion higher level.”

“We have rampant inflation,” he continued. “We have tyrants out of control at the Department of Justice. We have a DHS not securing the border. We got the frickin’ Secretary of Defense who won’t even tell the the President of the United States when he’s in surgery for four days. And your Republicans are going to say, ‘Here, take another $100 billion over what the cap level would be.’”

Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, the new chair of the House Freedom Caucus, tweeted, “Republicans agreeing to spending levels $69 billion higher than last summer’s debt ceiling ‘deal,’ with no significant policy wins is nothing but another loss for America. At some point, having the House majority has to matter. Stop funding this spending with an open border!”

Senator Mike Lee agrees with the Freedom Caucus’s math. “As the House Freedom Caucus has noted, the actual spending levels in this plan are nearly $100 billion above what we are being promised, but mostly preserve all the pre-existing funding for Biden’s priorities,” the Utah senator wrote in an email to TAC. “At a time when we’re $34 trillion in debt and inflation is hollowing out America’s middle class, Republicans can and must do better than this.”

Meanwhile, on Lee’s side of the Capitol complex, a small group of senators believe they are close to a border deal that could unleash other spending legislation: Biden’s four-part supplemental package, the bulk of which is destined for Ukraine.

“Text hopefully this week, to be able to get that out. Everybody will have time to be able to read and go through it. No one’s going to be jammed in this process,” Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, claimed on “Fox News Sunday.”

“This agreement has to work. Everyone’s counting on this actually working,” he added. Senators Krysten Sinema and Chris Murphy are among the senators still closing on a clandestine immigration deal that has been in the works for months.

The fly in the ointment for the senate negotiators continue to be the president’s parole authority and deportation provisions. Anonymous sources familiar with the talks told POLITICO that the deal is expected to include some changes to U.S. asylum laws and something like former President Donald Trump’s Title 42 policy. Visa policy changes are also reportedly included in the deal.

Lee told TAC that he remains skeptical of the immigration deal. “This so-called deal has not been shared with the Republican conference, which is not a good sign,” Lee wrote. “Our Democrat colleagues have been assuring each other that the deal surrenders nothing to conservatives in terms of real border security, and thus they are declaring victory—again, not a great sign.”

As for the reported policy particulars, Lee seems to find a repeat of Title 42 under Biden too good to be true.

“Even when President Biden had Title 42 and Remain in Mexico at his disposal, he fought to get rid of them. He has also ignored the law to grant parole to large categories of people. Our border is a lawless nightmare, not because President Biden and DHS Secretary Mayorkas lack the policy tools and resources to secure it, but because they lack the desire to do so (while willfully exploiting loopholes),” Lee explained. “Any provision that facilitates resettling illegal immigrants in the United States in lieu of actual border security and immigration enforcement will worsen the crisis, not make it better. The rumored provisions granting work visas to illegal immigrants immediately upon release from detention will only encourage more illegal immigration.”

Nevertheless, Lankford’s optimism was matched by Sinema, who recently informed the media that she had spoken to Speaker Johnson about the border negotiations.

“You’ve got to get a bill through both chambers to get it signed by the president,” Sinema claimed. “So we’re working very hard to ensure that this is a bill that can pass both the Senate, the House and get signed by the president.”

The senate negotiators were hoping to brief the party conferences on Tuesday.

While the House GOP is hoping to prevent a repeat of what transpired in October—the episode that eventually gave Johnson the gavel—it is hard to imagine Johnson retains his speakership unchallenged if he backs his deal with Schumer up with a weak border security deal. That said, a slim (and slimming) majority might make removing Johnson too risky.

Nevertheless, conservatives in the House, particularly the Freedom Caucus and its allies, are putting pressure on GOP leadership to hold the line on border security.

“My understanding of the Senate negotiated bill is that it sh*t, okay,” Roy said. “I’m using that word bluntly, because I’m tired of messing around with this stuff.”

Previously, in a “dear colleague” letter dated January 2, Roy claimed to be willing to shut down the government over the Biden administration’s unwillingness to secure the southern border.

“I am obliged to inform you of my duty to refuse to fund—or otherwise empower—the United States Government, or any foreign government it is supporting, unless and until it fulfills its constitutional obligation to defend our borders from invasion, as required in our republican form of government, and make the people of Texas whole for its breach of duty,” Roy wrote.

“To wit, we currently are funding—at the higher omnibus spending levels—the DHS regime perpetuating the policies, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) refugee ‘resettlement’ office, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) exploiting our laws, international bodies like the United Nations (UN) facilitating open borders (in addition to funding enemies such as Hamas), and an overall government—including the DOJ—perpetuating the lawlessness at odds with the well-being of its own citizens,” Roy’s letter continued.

“To be certain, use of our constitutional authority to withhold funds to force adherence to the law comes with cries of ‘government shutdown’ and concerns we will fail to sustain key priorities such as funding for troops and Border Patrol agents themselves. These claims can be dismissed if we pass legislation to fund those very basic responsibilities—including ensuring Border Patrol agents receive full salary, benefits, and overtime pay – while withholding funding for the vast majority of the federal government until it performs its basic duty to defend the borders of a supposedly sovereign nation.”

During a recent trip to the southern border, several Republican members of the House rallied behind Roy’s call. Arizona’s Rep. Andy Biggs said, “No more money for his bureaucracy until you’ve brought this border under control.” More than a dozen members of the House, including Reps. Matt Gaetz and Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Eli Crane of Arizona, Bob Good of Virginia, and Matt Rosendale of Montana, have signaled they are willing to shut the government down over border security.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio was also on the recent trip to the southern border, where he floated the idea of inserting a sentence in any government spending bill that would suspend the processing and release of new migrants.

“I think it boils down to the will of Republicans in the United States Congress. Are we going to force that sentence, that solution, on a piece of legislation?” Jordan asked rhetorically.

If conservatives in the House are willing to shut down the government over a fight for border security, some senators could join them in the trenches. “If there ever were a legitimate demand that, if unmet, would justify withholding government funding, it exists today with calls to secure our lawless border,” Lee wrote. “It is not an unrealistic demand to ask President Biden to take the sovereignty and security of our country seriously; tragically, he has been utterly derelict in this duty. We should hold hostage as many Leftist priorities as we can through the legislative process, while amplifying the outcry of Democrat constituencies in New York, Chicago, and California, who are suffering under the burdensome yoke of Biden’s border failure.”

“The bottom line is nobody in any part of the Republican Conference wants us to be divided,” Roy said. “When we were united last year, we were kicking butt. We passed the best border security bill we've ever passed. We passed a strong bill that limited spending and had a limited increase in the debt and put caps in place and cut spending. Then, we unfortunately watered that down with the debt deal. Got us a really good defense bill. We passed seven appropriation bills. We were restoring regular order. We were doing that united.”

Then, Roy’s comments took a turn. “Now, we're doing things by suspension with Democrats, because we're operating out of fear. And we are not giving the American people a really strong reason to get in behind us. I think that's a mistake,” Roy stated. “I will be taking into consideration all of our options this week, trying to figure out what we can do to send a message to the speaker and to our Republican colleagues that I didn't sign up to come to Washington to keep spending money we don't have to fund the bureaucracy that is undermining the security and wellbeing of the people that I represent.”

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