The spending standoff between House GOP leadership and conservatives hardened Wednesday, with demands from hard-liners forcing Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to punt a procedural vote on legislation to fund the Pentagon.
The decision to delay the vote came one day after McCarthy opened an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, a move that onlookers thought may mollify conservative demands on spending after weeks of them pushing for the amped-up investigation.
But McCarthy’s announcement is not buying the Speaker any love from his right flank when it comes to government funding, underscoring the tough road ahead as conservatives dig in their heels on steeper spending cuts — all while the shutdown deadline quickly approaches.
“There’s nothing that better epitomizes the culture of Washington than to think that,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said of the idea that conservatives would soften their stance on spending after McCarthy launched an impeachment inquiry.
“From the perspective of whether we’re solving our appropriations problem or spending problem, whether we’re beginning to turn the direction of addressing that problem that’s eating Americans alive with inflation, for example. It’s irrelevant to that,” he added, referring to the decision to open an inquiry. “So why would I change unless I really don’t prioritize the spending problems and the debt the way I’ve expressed to you?”
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) emphasized Tuesday that impeachment and spending are two separate issues.
“Impeachment is not, it should not be done for political reasons. If the facts take us to that location then that’s where they should take us, but it has nothing to do with the debt, the deficit, the outrageous spending, the inflation that’s crushing American families,” Perry said. “Those are two separate issues and they should be dealt with separately.”
The House on Wednesday was scheduled to vote on the rule for an appropriations bill funding the Pentagon, which would have kicked off consideration of the measure. But Republican leadership scrapped those plans as conservatives pushing for steeper spending cuts lined up against the procedural vote — which more than likely would have tanked the effort. The rule also included a bill that would prevent states from banning the sale of gas-powered cars.
It was the second time in two months that leadership was forced to punt a vote on an appropriations bill. In July, top Republicans scrapped plans to vote on the rule for legislation funding agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The House has passed just one of 12 appropriations bills.
Conservatives said they wanted to see the top-line figures for the full slate of appropriations bills before moving forward with the government funding process — a request they have been making for months. Members of the right flank have accused leadership of using a budgetary gimmick known as rescissions to make it look like spending is lower than it truly is.
“A lot of us just want to see what the overall plan is,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) told The Hill.
Norman, who sits on the Rules Committee, voted against sending the rule out of the panel late Tuesday night, a move that signaled trouble was ahead for the appropriations bill. He planned to oppose the rule on the floor before leadership yanked the vote.
“Defense is vital to fund, but I’m just not, I’m not spending money we don’t have. We’ve laid out our 1.471, we’ve laid out, you know, the no rescissions, we don’t know what leadership is gonna push,” Norman said, referring to the $1.471 trillion conservatives want to see as an overall spending cap.
“I’m not gonna vote for any bill until I see all 12 top-line figures to see what it comes to,” he added.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) echoed Norman’s comments that hard-liners want to see overall spending before moving forward with the appropriations process.
“There currently is not an appetite to just, I would call it, blindly move forward with any one piece of the puzzle until we can actually look at the picture of the puzzle that we’re actually trying to assemble,” Roy said. “I have no interest in just grabbing a piece and sticking it on a board and hoping.”
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee, said leaders are working to solve conservative concerns.
“They need to understand how we’re going to pass all the appropriation bills and what the top-line number is. So we’re trying to get there,” Calvert said.
McCarthy told reporters shortly after the vote was delayed that “they’re just working on it.” But when he left the Capitol for the day, he expressed frustration with members who voted to oppose the vote.
“I haven’t heard anything in the bill that they’re opposed to,” McCarthy told reporters.
Norman and Roy both said conversations would continue in the coming days, but in a sign of the ongoing tensions, the House Rules Committee reconvened Wednesday evening and reported out a new rule that does not include the Pentagon appropriations bill.
The chaos surrounding the Defense appropriations bill played out the day after McCarthy gave into conservative pressure and launched an impeachment inquiry into Biden, arguing that the allegations surrounding the Biden family “paint a picture of a culture of corruption.”
Republican-led House committees have for months been investigating the Biden family’s business dealings from when Joe Biden was vice president, but they have not uncovered any evidence that the president directly benefited financially from his family’s business activities.
The announcement — made on the first day the House was back in session following the long summer recess — followed weeks of pressure from conservatives to open an impeachment inquiry into the president. Some hard-liners have been demanding impeachment proceedings against Biden since January.
McCarthy over August recess sought to tie an impeachment inquiry to the appropriations process, arguing that Congress should pass a continuing resolution by the end of the month because a government shutdown would stymie GOP investigations.
But conservatives are scoffing at that calculus.
“There was a move for a brief period to say that because the impeachment inquiry may be occurring that we wouldn’t want to end up at a debate on spending levels on Oct. 1 because that might impede an impeachment inquiry. I think that’s bogus,” Roy said Monday. “We have proven in the past during times when we’ve been at funding impasse — I think in 2013, for example, I think there’s been other times — where committee investigations continue … So I would say that that’s a false choice.”
Even outside conservative forces are underscoring that launching an impeachment inquiry and the appropriations process are two separate issues. Wade Miller, the executive director of Citizens for Renewing America — a group allied with the Freedom Caucus — made that point during a press conference alongside conservative lawmakers Tuesday.
“I fully support impeachment, but impeachment is not a replacement for accountability through government funding and power of the purse,” Miller said.
Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch — an investigative organization influential in conservative circles — pressed Republicans to focus on spending issues rather than investigations.
“It is not enough to do investigations and reports — we need to stop the government corruption and abuse that is so concerning to the American people,” Fitton said at the Freedom Caucus press conference.
As conservatives continue their push for spending cuts despite clinching a win on opening an impeachment inquiry, the clock is ticking: Lawmakers have just nine legislative days before the government funding deadline.
Some hard-liners, however, are hoping that the time crunch helps fulfill their demands.
“It’s kind of funny what happens when the pressure’s on,” Roy said. “It kind of forces people to have to make some tough choices.”
Emily Brooks and Aris Folley contributed.