House Uncertainty Puts Shutdown Specter Right Back on the Table

Roll Call | By Aidan Quigley and Laura Weiss 
The chances of a partial government shutdown next month have risen significantly with the House’s ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as speaker, lawmakers and aides in both chambers believe.

With the current stopgap spending law set to run out Nov. 17, legislative action, including consideration of two appropriations bills set for this week, has ground to a halt in the House.

All eyes are on the upcoming election for speaker, with Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, declaring bids Wednesday. Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern, R-Okla., is also considering a run.

“It’s an all stop, buddy, until we get this [speaker] seated,” Rep. Morgan Luttrell, R-Texas, said Wednesday. “That’s absolutely unfortunate. We owe the American public the appropriations bills, plain and simple.”

In its final action before ousting McCarthy Tuesday, the House adopted a rule to bring the fiscal 2024 Energy-Water and Legislative Branch appropriations bills to the floor. But no further action on those bills is anticipated until there is a new speaker.

At least one House Republican — McCarthy ally Rep. Garret Graves, R-La. — wants the speaker pro tempore, Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., to kick-start appropriations talks with the Senate. McHenry could be in the position for an extended time period, Graves said.

“I think we need to be very thoughtful about the roles and the authority that he can exercise in that position,” Graves said. “I would love to . . . be in a situation where we can move forward on appropriations bills and other things right now, and at least have some informal conversations with the Senate, where we don’t find ourselves set behind a month, maybe just a few days.”

However, with no historical precedent for McHenry’s role, it is not yet clear what authorities he will be able to exercise as speaker pro tempore. Graves said he is having conversations with the parliamentarian about McHenry’s powers.

It’s also unclear if the unelected McHenry would have the support of the Republican conference to start appropriations negotiations with the Senate, with so much about the fiscal 2024 process up in the air without a speaker.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., an Appropriations Committee member in that chamber, dismissed the idea of trying to “pre-conference” spending bills before they emerge from the full House and Senate.

“Not if somebody doesn’t want to lose a limb,” he said.

‘Worries me a lot’

McHenry and Graves were the architects of the debt limit deal that set spending caps but faced opposition for not going far enough in the eyes of some in the conference. The appropriations cap they ultimately negotiated was $119 billion higher than the hardest-line spending hawks in the party wanted and were under the impression McCarthy promised them back in January in exchange for letting him become speaker.

Senators in both parties believe that the lack of a speaker imperils the chances of keeping the government open next month.

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