Home U.S. News Divided Over Money and Policy, House G.O.P. Punts on Spending Bill

Divided Over Money and Policy, House G.O.P. Punts on Spending Bill

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Divided Over Money and Policy, House G.O.P. Punts on Spending Bill

House Republicans abandoned efforts to pass a spending bill to fund the Agriculture Department and the F.D.A. on Thursday before heading home for summer break, stymied by internal divisions over funding and social policy that threaten to make it impossible for them to avoid a shutdown in the fall.

Caught between hard-right conservatives who wanted tens of billions of dollars cut from the legislation and more mainstream Republicans who oppose abortion-related restrictions that the far right insisted upon adding, G.O.P. leaders abruptly pulled the plug on their plans to pass the $25 billion bill. That added the agriculture measure to a looming legislative pileup in September, when Congress will have just weeks to pass a dozen spending bills or a temporary patch to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

The House did manage to approve its first spending bill of the year, to fund veterans programs and military construction projects. But that legislation — which typically sails to approval with little opposition — squeezed through on a nearly party-line vote of 219 to 211, with two conservative Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. Democrats said the bill shortchanged construction by more than $1.5 billion and limited abortion access for women serving in the military.

The spending clashes encapsulated the difficulties ahead for Republicans as Speaker Kevin McCarthy tries to mollify conservatives by cutting spending and adding culture-war provisions without losing the support of more mainstream Republicans, particularly those in districts won by President Biden.

Some of the Republicans writing the spending bills have also begun to bristle at the demands of conservatives who rarely support government funding measures and may ultimately oppose the legislation.

In the case of the agriculture measure, which also funds the Food and Drug Administration, right-wing lawmakers insisted that the bill include language that would reverse the agency’s new rule allowing mifepristone — the first pill used in a two-drug medication abortion regimen — to be distributed through the mail and at retail locations, significantly expanding access to it.

The disputes come as the usually bipartisan appropriations process has derailed in the House amid bitter recriminations. Democrats, incensed that House Republicans have decided to set spending levels well below what Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy agreed to earlier this year in their deal to suspend the federal debt limit, are opposing all the spending bills. The blanket Democratic resistance leaves Mr. McCarthy only four Republican votes to spare if all members are present and voting.

As Republicans announced that they would be leaving Washington without considering the agriculture bill, Democrats warned that a shutdown was becoming inevitable because the G.O.P. had caved to the demands of ultraconservatives.

“We have one bill out of 12 completed because extremists are holding your conference hostage,” Representative Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts, the No. 2 House Democrat, told Republicans on the House floor. “And that’s not the full story. The extremists are holding the American people hostage.”

Accusing Republicans of engaging in a “reckless march to a MAGA shutdown,” she noted that legislative work days will be few when the House reconvenes in September. “We will have 12 days when we return to do the job the American people sent us to do,” she said.

Republicans said it was Democrats who were abandoning their responsibilities by opposing the spending bills and that the G.O.P. would push them through on their own if necessary.

“We’ll continue standing up to the extremists on the left who want to bring our country to a socialist direction,” said Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the majority leader, though he conceded, “We have more work to do.”

The boiling over of tempers on the House side was in sharp contrast to the mood in the Senate, where the Appropriations Committee cleared the last of its 12 bills on a bipartisan basis in one of the smoothest appropriations seasons in recent memory.

“For the first time in five years, this committee finished passing all 12 individual appropriations bills with overwhelming bipartisan votes, under incredibly tough circumstances — and all before the end of July,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and chairwoman of the committee, and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the panel, said in a joint statement. “When we said we would return this committee to regular order, we meant it. This is a big deal.”

But the Senate is writing its annual spending bills at the level agreed to by the president and Mr. McCarthy earlier this year — a substantial increase over the House bills — and also working to hold off the kind of poison-pill policy provisions House Republicans have been adding. Members of the Senate from both parties also want to add more money for the Pentagon.

At some point, the House and Senate versions of all 12 bills will have to be reconciled, and meshing them will be difficult given the deep differences. Any increase in the spending levels is likely to cost Mr. McCarthy significant conservative votes in the House, potentially forcing him to rely on Democrats again, as he did to win approval of the debt limit agreement. Such a compromise could lead to a challenge to his leadership from the right.

Mr. McCarthy said he met on Thursday with Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat and majority leader, to discuss how to advance the spending bills and other must-pass legislation in September to avoid a crisis. He also downplayed the significance of Republicans being forced to postpone consideration of the agriculture spending measure because of divisions among themselves.

“We are going to try to save as much money as possible,” he told reporters after the House adjourned for six weeks. “If we’ve got to take a couple of extra days to go through it, it is not until Sept. 30.”

Under the terms of the debt limit agreement, if all appropriations bills are not passed by the end of the year, an automatic 1 percent cut would be applied to discretionary federal spending.

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