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House conservatives oppose bipartisan spending agreement, demanding further cuts

U.S. Rep-elect Tim Burchett (R-TN) congratulates the now former House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on his election in 2023.
Chip Somodevilla
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U.S. Rep-elect Tim Burchett (R-TN) congratulates the now former House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on his election in 2023.

Updated January 9, 2024 at 1:06 PM ET

Congressional leaders have reached a bipartisan spending plan that would avert a Jan. 19 partial government shutdown, but many House Republicans say the deal does not go far enough to cut spending.

GOP Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee told Morning Edition that the deal won't get his vote, but he stopped short of saying House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., should lose his job over the agreement.

"I don't care if you're a liberal, conservative, moderate or a mugwump — those numbers don't add up," Burchett told NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Without support from the most conservative members of his party, Johnson will have to rely heavily on Democratic support to avert a government shutdown. That could threaten Johnson's plan to add conservative policy provisions to the bill, like restrictions on abortion rights.

The agreement sets spending levels for the fiscal year, with $886 billion for defense programs and roughly $773 billion for nondefense domestic programs, for a total of about $1.6 trillion in overall spending. The agreement is virtually the same as a deal struck by Johnson's predecessor, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and President Biden during last year's debt limit negotiations.

NPR's Deirdre Walsh told All Things Considered that conservatives like Burchett are unlikely to vote for any spending agreement that could win support in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

"A lot of people who are complaining now are conservatives who tend to vote against any deal that's cut with any Democrats," Walsh said.

That means Johnson will have to rely on votes from a majority of Democrats in order to pass the spending bills, a move that is sure to further anger the same conservatives who ousted McCarthy from his job over a similar decision.

Congress has to pass a total of 12 federal spending bills each year. So far none of the 12 bills has become law. Last year, Congress agreed to set a two-tiered deadline that divides those bills over separate deadlines. Lawmakers must pass the first portion of these bills by Jan. 19 to avoid a partial government shutdown and pass the remaining bills by Feb. 2.

"They've agreed on the size of the house — now they just have to come up with the blueprints and build the thing,"NPR's Eric McDaniel told Morning Edition on Monday.

Burchett conceded that despite his opposition, the spending bill will likely pass with the support of Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has already signed on to the bill, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was "encouraged" by the deal.

"America faces serious national security challenges, and Congress must act quickly to deliver the full-year resources this moment requires," he said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Other Republicans, however, called the bill a "total failure."

"Our nation simply cannot afford the Swamp's reckless spending habits," Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., tweeted on Monday.

Burchett said that by agreeing to this framework, Johnson seems to have abandoned his promise to cut spending.

"It seems that once you get in this office, your viewpoints change," Burchett said.

While he is planning to personally oppose the bill, Burchett said that Johnson continues to have the support of the Republican rank and file because the process through which this bill has been negotiated has been more open.

"At least this time, we're going to know what we're going to consume — it wasn't force-fed to us," Burchett said.

Burchett said he is concerned that the United States is taking in more debt than it can handle, especially if Congress continues to increase aid to Ukraine. The bill sets top-line spending levels at $886 billion for defense, but how much money is sent to Ukraine is still up in the air.

"That's not America's war," Burchett said. "We're slipping into another Vietnam-type situation, where we first gave them money, then arms, then we gave them advisers — and then they gave us body bags."

Burchett also rejected the idea that not supporting Ukraine will lead to the United States losing its international influence, saying that the U.S. has spent enough money and sent enough weapons to the area to show its support.

"We've already put in $114 billion," Burchett said. "And I would argue that 114 billion back home could be spent a whole lot better."

Burchett said that the only way to avoid taking on more debt is to go back to pre-pandemic spending levels.

"There is no plan, and no party has the guts to make the cuts," Burchett said.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 8, 2024 at 9:00 PM PST
An earlier version of this story misspelled the last names of Kevin McCarthy, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, as well as Deirdre Walsh's first name.
Mansee Khurana