How to Understand the Impact of Mike Johnson’s Handshake Deal

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House Speaker Mike Johnson’s recent agreement to fund the government has ignited fury within the House Republican conference, particularly among its more conservative members. With the looming deadline for Congress to avert a partial government shutdown, tensions are running high.

Mike Johnson's
Mike Johnson’s

Conservative Dissatisfaction

The House’s most conservative members, who initially celebrated Mike Johnson’s ascent to the speakership as a victory for the hard right, have expressed a range of negative reactions to his agreement to fund the government. Some have even hinted at the possibility of ousting Johnson from the speakership. Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, declined to rule out such a move, leaving a motion to vacate “on the table” during a recent interview on the Steve Deace Show.

While others have not openly supported a motion to vacate, they have voiced their disappointment with the agreement. Many conservatives feel that it falls short of the deep spending cuts they have long advocated for. Rep. Warren Davidson of Ohio expressed his dissatisfaction, stating that Johnson’s actions were not in line with the expectations set prior to his election as speaker.

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The Controversial Deal

Over the weekend, Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, reached an agreement on federal spending caps for the next fiscal year, set at $1.59 trillion, along with a $69 billion side deal for non-defense spending. This agreement bears a striking resemblance to the deal former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made with President Joe Biden last year, which ultimately contributed to McCarthy’s removal from leadership.

Initially, after Johnson became speaker, conservatives seemed willing to accept the spending caps agreed upon in the debt ceiling deal. However, the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers, formally opposed any “gimmicks” in conjunction with the $1.59 trillion spending cap. The side deal, along with the overall spending agreement, was perceived as precisely the kind of gimmickry conservatives had warned against.

Conservative Discontent

The House Freedom Caucus made their dissatisfaction clear, declaring in a post on social media, “It’s even worse than we thought. This is total failure.” In a letter to House Republicans, Johnson acknowledged that the agreement might not please everyone but emphasized that it would allow Congress to fund the government and provide an avenue for Republicans to advocate for conservative policy additions to funding bills.

Johnson pointed to some achievements secured by Republicans, including expediting $10 billion in cuts to the Internal Revenue Service to 2024, originally scheduled for 2025, and reclaiming approximately $6 billion in unspent COVID-era relief funding. However, these concessions did not suffice for hard-right lawmakers within the House.

A Perceived Betrayal

Mike Johnson’s agreement, which closely resembles McCarthy’s deal with Biden, has left many conservative members feeling betrayed. Johnson defended his actions, stating that while he is a conservative himself, the circumstances required compromise. With Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, and Republicans holding a slim majority in the House, the path forward for the GOP remains challenging.

Slim Leverage and Uncertain Prospects

Mike Johnson’s acknowledged the uphill battle ahead, as Republicans seek to add conservative policy riders to funding bills. However, the limited leverage they possess as the minority party in a divided government poses significant challenges. Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma expressed skepticism about their ability to achieve much in a government shutdown scenario, given their minority status.

Chair of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, also conceded that past history did not inspire confidence in the GOP’s ability to secure victories in future funding legislation. The challenges of advocating for sound policy and reduced spending in the current political landscape weigh heavily on the minds of conservative Republicans.

In conclusion, Speaker Mike Johnson’s government funding agreement has triggered discord among House Republicans, particularly the conservative faction. While the path forward is uncertain, the struggle for influence and policy objectives continues in a divided government landscape.

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