State's members of U.S. House voice frustration

From left: U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, French Hill, Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack, all R-Arkansas.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., admits he is not a fan of soap operas, but it was easy for the congressman to compare divisions among House Republicans over funding the government to a daytime serial.

"It is everybody's paying attention to the next episode," the representative from Rogers told reporters Thursday. "Yesterday was a different episode. Today has changed a little bit."

Members of the House of Representatives left Capitol Hill for the week without any progress on avoiding a government shutdown at month's end. Republican leaders ditched a plan involving consideration of a stopgap funding measure over the weekend after the House failed to move forward with a defense appropriations bill.

Six Republicans joined Democrats in opposing floor consideration; House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., changed his vote from an "aye" to allow the chamber to bring up the measure at a later time.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., met with a dozen House Appropriations Committee leaders -- including Womack, chairman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee -- after the vote to discuss the next steps.

"You know what I'd call it?" Womack told reporters, continuing his point about soap operas. "I think it's a great title: 'All My Children.'"

McCarthy informed the House Republican Conference on Wednesday about a possible strategy focused on receiving enough GOP support. The plan would fund the government for 30 days at $1.471 trillion spending levels with further spending cuts than originally approved in hopes of pleasing Republican outliers. McCarthy additionally pushed a boost to border security and a commission for studying the national debt as part of the arrangement.

Members of the House GOP's hard-right facet have shared opposition to a continuing resolution without provisions addressing border security and steeper spending reductions.

House Republicans cannot afford to lose more than four votes on passing their policy goals. Even if House Republicans succeed in passing a plan, the Democrat-controlled Senate would reject it.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., said most of the frustration within the Republican Conference stems from the willingness of some members to "take out their own team without a plan."

"We have to be about trying to find 218 votes. They're about trying to find five votes," said Crawford, of Jonesboro. "It's a lot easier to do five."

The Arkansas delegation is familiar with navigating through a government shutdown. Crawford and Womack served in the House in October 2013 when congressional Republicans allowed a shutdown while trying to block the implementation of President Barack Obama's health care law.

The two legislators and fellow Republican Reps. French Hill of Little Rock and Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs served during the 35-day shutdown between December 2018 and January 2019 -- the longest government shutdown -- amid disagreements over border security.

"What people don't understand about a government shutdown is you don't really shut the government down," Crawford said.

A government shutdown does not affect services deemed essential, and mandatory spending on programs such as Medicare and Medicaid would continue. Nonessential federal services -- such as visitor programs at national parks -- would not be provided, and services could be strained if government employees are placed on furlough.

"I understand we want to reduce spending. There's no question about it. We just rolled over $33 trillion in debt," Crawford said. "70-odd percent of our budget is mandatory spending. It's not appropriated. These kinds of maneuvers won't help that problem."

Senate and House appropriators put together appropriations bills in consideration of spending levels set in the debt ceiling agreement between President Joe Biden and House Republican leadership in May.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee passed bills in line with the negotiated amounts -- $886 billion for defense and $704 billion for other issues for the next fiscal year -- the House Appropriations Committee approved measures below the set levels.

"In my view, they are arguing against their own objective," Hill told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette regarding the more conservative group.

"They are contributing to an end result that would be principally a Joe Biden-Kevin McCarthy spending level, but with much less conservative policy riders attached to those bills because we are not getting them passed."

Hill said House Republicans forfeit their ability to serve as a reputable negotiator with the White House and Senate Democrats by failing to pass appropriations bills.

"I believe the tactics used by my colleagues are going to produce a failed outcome from our goals of lower spending with the most conservative policies that we can achieve," he said.

Crawford and Hill did not dismiss the possibility of Congress avoiding a government shutdown. Crawford remained hopeful House negotiators could make progress on possible terms over the weekend.

"Shutdowns do not end up providing leverage to lower spending levels or better policy outcomes. They just don't produce better, more conservative policies," Hill said. "They end up typically costing taxpayers more money because of start-stop expenses associated with giant federal programs."

In a statement, Westerman said House Republicans "are still working hard to avoid a government shutdown and bring fiscal sanity to our federal budget."

Womack said he does not believe a shutdown is inevitable, noting Republican leaders still have time to strategize on securing 218 votes. He said House appropriations leaders aim to help McCarthy reach a point to negotiate with the Senate, but getting most House Republicans to approve deeper cuts would be difficult.

"All this is designed to do is, I guess, give us an opportunity to talk to the Senate," he said. "Hell no, they're not going to become law, but maybe it gives us an opportunity to have a stronger conversation during conference."