House GOP proposes two-step plan to fund government, raising shutdown risk

With less than a week before federal spending laws expire, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Saturday unveiled a novel and uncertain plan to temporarily extend funding — but it’s already been rejected by the Senate and White House, increasing the odds of a government shutdown.

Johnson’s proposed stopgap funding bill, called a continuing resolution or “CR,” would leave funds for different federal agencies to expire at different times, according to three people familiar with the House leader’s plans, requiring Congress to confront multiple deadlines in the coming months or risk repeated partial government shutdowns.

The House speaker described the two-step proposal as a move to avoid the massive spending bills that historically have been considered by Congress.

“Separating out the CR from the supplemental funding debates places our conference in the best position to fight for fiscal responsibility, oversight over Ukraine aid, and meaningful policy changes at our Southern border,” Johnson said in a statement released on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Funds for military and veterans programs, agriculture and food agencies, and the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development would run through Jan. 19. The remaining government funding — covering the State, Justice, Commerce, Labor and Health and Human Services departments, among others — would expire on Feb. 2.

The plans are fluid and may change as the House considers the legislation, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations between lawmakers. If a new spending law isn’t enacted before the current one expires, the federal government will shut down at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 18

The two-tiered proposal was originally favored by the far-right House Freedom Caucus, whose views often influence Johnson. But key members of that group have more recently been skeptical of the plan because it lacks spending cuts.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) posted on X, “I 100% oppose,” because the bill funds the government at current spending levels.

Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, told reporters earlier in the week the staggered plan was “politically DOA,” because it did not have Democratic support.

The Democratic-controlled Senate and the Biden administration have already rejected the “laddered” CR, which has never before been attempted.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on Friday called the staggered funding plan “the craziest, stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.”

The White House panned the idea as a “recipe for more Republican chaos” that would lead to further shutdowns.

“House Republicans are wasting precious time with an unserious proposal that has been panned by members of both parties,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Passage of the measure in the deeply divided House is far from assured. Republican infighting has prevented Johnson from winning votes on longer-term spending bills for individual agencies and programs, and small-government fiscal hawks have said they would not support a CR unless it contained deep spending cuts or staggered budget deadlines for different parts of the government. It’s not clear if other Republicans will support the new plan, though.

The plan would not include any of the billions of dollars President Biden has requested for military aid to Ukraine or for global humanitarian aid to deal with the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. The House earlier this month passed a bill to send $14 billion to Israel for the war in Gaza, but coupled it with cuts to IRS funding that the White House and Senate Democrats have rejected.

Johnson and the GOP enjoy a narrow majority in the House. If more than four Republicans reject the speaker’s proposal, Johnson would need to rely on Democratic votes to extend funding and avert a shutdown — a red line for some conservatives, including a small band that forced Johnson’s predecessor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), to give up the speaker’s gavel after he allowed a previous spending bill to pass on a bipartisan basis.

The impasse threatens to send millions of federal workers home without pay while suspending a broad range of government services, including national parks, key IRS functions and federal disaster relief. A protracted shutdown could have more serious effects, impeding food safety inspections and public benefits for the poor, among thousands of other federal operations.

The U.S. government has come close to missing key financial deadlines twice this year alone. In May, McCarthy and Biden reached a deal to prevent a breach of the nation’s borrowing limit with just days to spare before a potentially cataclysmic impact on financial markets. Then in September, with less than 24 hours to spare, McCarthy relied on Democratic votes to approve a measure to fund the government — which enraged the far right and quickly led to his ouster.

The imminent deadline represents a similar test for the new House speaker, who has held the office for less than three weeks and has never chaired a congressional committee.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) took procedural steps on Friday to allow a funding bill to pass out of the upper chamber if the House doesn’t act. Leaders of both parties in the Senate prefer a bill to extend government funding at current spending levels into December.

Congress has never before implemented such a broad “laddered” funding bill. The nearest analog is a 1991 CR that extended federal funding for around 45 days, but gave a single component — a provision that paid for the State Department and foreign operations — a slightly longer deadline to accommodate ongoing negotiations between then-President George H.W. Bush and Congress over economic development aid to Israel.

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