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Recess Is Over

The House comes back in session Tuesday with a shutdown looming. Could McCarthy’s gavel be up for grabs?

House Continues Voting For New Speaker After Three Failed Attempts

The House of Representatives returns to session Tuesday after the August recess. Lawmakers will have just 19 days to agree on some plan, likely short-term, to fund the government or enter a government shutdown. 

In the coming chaos, the biggest question is what will come out of the Republican controlled House. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy finds himself under increasing pressure from conservative members of the Republican caucus. If McCarthy fails to play his cards right, House conservatives could act on one of the major concessions secured during the speakership fight—a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair.


If McCarthy gets his way, House Republicans will pass a continuing resolution to fund the government, punting debates over specific budgets and funding levels to later in the calendar year. From McCarthy’s perspective, a continuing resolution, which would fund the government at the previous fiscal year’s level for a brief period of time, has the best chance of passing both chambers, thus avoiding a government shutdown, with the least amount of potential damage.

McCarthy’s calculus is based on the movement in the appropriations process thus far. As it stands, the House needs to pass eleven of the twelve appropriations bills to fund the government through the coming fiscal year. Before leaving for August recess, the House managed to pass the Military Construction Veterans Affairs spending bill. The final vote was 219–211. Two Republicans joined all voting Democrats in rejecting the bill. At $19.1 billion, the bill is small potatoes compared to the bigger appropriations bills that number in the hundreds of billions.

Some of the appropriations bills in the House have yet to make it out of the chamber’s Appropriations Committee. In the Senate, on the other hand, the Appropriations Committee passed each of the twelve appropriations bills and sent them to the floor, which marks the first time since 2018 the chamber has managed to do so. The bills were passed on a largely bipartisan basis due to agreements struck between Committee Chair Patty Murray and Committee Ranking Member Susan Collins. 

Large gaps remain between the House and Senate versions of the appropriations bills, even those that have moved through committees. Progressives claim that Republicans are in violation of the debt ceiling deal entered into by President Joe Biden and McCarthy earlier this year. “The 12 bills that House Republican appropriators have written and reported violate the negotiated terms,” the Center for American Progress said. “The House-reported bills called for $593 billion in funding for NDD* (nondefense discretionary spending), a full $58 billion below the levels agreed to in the debt limit deal,” which amounts to a “9 percent cut below the levels agreed to in the debt limit deal,” according to the think tank.

Just how enforceable these terms were in the first place remains under question. As the Center for American Progress notes, the NDD adjustments were based upon, “side-deal handshake agreements.” What’s more important, however, is that the squabble reveals the current divergence between the House and Senate is not just raw funding numbers but the interpretation of pre-existing legislation, which makes it more likely that lawmakers will pursue a short-term solution to avoid a government shutdown given their time constraints.


In these circumstances, a continuing resolution is increasingly the most viable political option. “The Speaker’s view is that the more appropriations bills we can pass through the House through regular order, the stronger position we’ll be in to achieve Republican goals of limiting spending and ending Pelosi priorities that are currently locked into law,” a McCarthy spokesperson told Politico. “A short-term CR may be needed to do that and to keep Senate Dems from jamming taxpayers with an omnibus during the holidays.” An omnibus that combines the appropriations bills, the kind of which was passed during a lame duck session of Congress last year, is something McCarthy and conservative Republicans agree must be avoided. And capitulation on McCarthy’s part on any future omnibus will likely spell the end of his time as House Speaker.

Nevertheless, conservative House Republicans are putting pressure on McCarthy to ensure conservative priorities are protected throughout the shutdown negotiations, even if it’s over a continuing resolution. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas is pushing the speaker to include stronger border security provisions in any potential deal to stave off a government shutdown. “You’re going to fight for something, or you don’t have any business continuing to lead the Republican Party,” Roy told reporters. When asked if McCarthy’s gavel could be up for grabs in the coming weeks, Roy dismissed speculation as “palace intrigue.”

“We’re all working hard to try and move everything forward here in September. We have a job to do and that is to hold this administration accountable. If we can’t use the power of the purse, the one major tool the founders gave us, to check an executive branch that is universally disliked by this country…then why the hell are we even here?”

Roy’s fellow members of the House Freedom Caucus are seeking to protect other conservative priorities. “In the eventuality that Congress must consider a short-term extension of government funding through a Continuing Resolution, we refuse to support any such measure that continues Democrats’ bloated COVID-era spending,” a Freedom Caucus press release from August read. “Any support for a ‘clean’ Continuing Resolution would be an affirmation of the current FY 2023 spending levels grossly increased by the lame-duck December 2022 omnibus spending bill that we all vehemently opposed just seven months ago.”

Beyond border security, the Freedom Caucus wants to “address the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI”; “end the Left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon undermining our military's core warfighting mission”; and stop “any blank check for Ukraine.”

“The things that we’re asking for...are not unreasonable,” Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry, a Republican from Pennsylvania, told Politico.

“There’s been no movement to address them, in my opinion,” he added.

Roy was asked on Monday if he believes McCarthy can protect and advance these conservative priorities. “When Kevin [McCarthy] works with us, to sit down to achieve conservative ends and get 218 Republican votes, we’ve been successful. That’s my advice.”

Rep. Bob Good told Politico, “the speaker faces two choices” in the shutdown negotiations. “[McCarthy] stares down the Senate, stares down the White House, forces them to cave and is a transformational historic speaker,” the Virginia Republican explained, “or he can choose to make a deal with Democrats.”

Good, who believes the GOP should not cave to hysteria over a potential government shutdown, added, “I don’t think that’s a sustainable thing for him as speaker” if McCarthy makes another deal with Democrat. This is not the first time Good has rhetorically threatened McCarthy’s speakership.

Steady grumblings throughout McCarthy’s tenure on using the motion to vacate appears to have had a “boy who cried wolf” effect. But one unnamed representative close to McCarthy told Politico that this time around, “I don’t think they [McCarthy and his team] are taking this nearly as seriously as they should be.” Another unnamed representative claimed, “There’s now enough support from the base to be like, ‘Look if we’re not going to get results from McCarthy, we can get the results from somebody else.’”

“If McCarthy relies too much on Democrats, will he survive?” Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado asked. “Maybe. Maybe not.”