Shutdown Prospects Grow As House GOP Fumbles Defense Funding Bill

A small group of rebellious House Republicans sank the annual funding bill for the Pentagon in the House Tuesday, underlining how difficult it will be to keep the entire government open and the lights on after Sept. 30.

The defense bill is usually the easiest for Republicans to vote in favor of, as it funds their top priority: national defense. But this year, it has become entangled in a wider, increasingly bitter intra-party fight in the House GOP overspending.

The vote on a rule setting the limits for floor debate on the defense bill failed on a 212-214 tally, with five Republicans voting against it. While the vote was only procedural, the reality is it, and the underlying defense bill, will probably not come back to the House floor until a deal is struck within the Republican conference.

“This is about funding our troops. This is not a place to play politics,” a frustrated House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters immediately after the vote.

“Five members won with Democrats to block a bill that gives the largest pay raise to E-1 through E-6 military men and women, and I think that’s important.”

McCarthy threatened the usually sacrosanct long weekend that House members get when the House is in session, saying, “We’re going to keep voting” on funding bills. The House members are scheduled to leave Washington, D.C., on Thursday and return next Tuesday night, only days before the whole government is set to shut down.

The $826.2 billion Pentagon funding bill takes up more than half of the pot of money that funds the day-to-day activities of federal agencies and programs outside of Social Security and Medicare. Its failure Tuesday shows the difficulty House Republicans are having in passing bills for the entire government or even a temporary spending bill to keep the government’s lights on past Sept. 30.

Republican leaders had hoped they’d gotten a handle on the intra-party infighting on Sunday when they unveiled a compromise stopgap bill that would have cut funding by more than 8% for most agencies and included border enforcement legislation Republicans have long wanted. But even that attempt at a compromise between hardline anti-spending party members and more moderate ones from less conservative congressional districts fell apart quickly.

On Tuesday, McCarthy referred questions about that bill’s progress to the party whip, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who members had been told to talk to if they had problems with the bill.

Because the bills authorizing current government spending expire at the end of Sept. 30, the chaos in the House means the government will shut down or, more likely, the House will have to accept whatever temporary spending bill is negotiated over in the Senate on a more bipartisan basis.

In the Senate, the pace of talks has been glacial.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he wants to see what McCarthy can pull off before the Senate takes any action. But he noted how bad his party would look if the government shuts down.

“We’re waiting to see what the House is going to do,” he told reporters. “I think all of you know I’m not a fan of government shutdowns. I’ve seen a few of them over the years. They never have produced a policy change, and they’ve always been a loser for Republicans, politically.”

McConnell added, “We’re pulling for the speaker and hoping we can move forward.”