Disputes among House Republicans over spending cuts and abortion policy forced House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to scrap a vote planned for this week on one of 12 major funding bills for the next fiscal year.
The agriculture spending bill was expected to hit the House floor late this week, but lawmakers instead went home without any vote – a sign that Republicans may struggle to find agreement in their own party on these issues.
On the question of spending, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have been pushing for a total of $1.47 trillion in discretionary spending next year, while House GOP leaders set out a total of $1.58 trillion and have proposed funding bills based on that higher level.
When the agriculture spending bill came up this week, it became clear that conservative lawmakers couldn’t support that specific bill or the broader GOP leadership plan. The decision to delay the vote sparked anger from rural Republicans, who said the party shouldn’t be looking to cut any more from the agriculture bill.
‘I just have very serious concerns of when you absolutely gut an [agriculture] appropriations bill, I mean, it has catastrophic effects on the safety of our food, cuts USDA inspectors, [affects] the export market – cutting important programs’ said Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, who represents a heavily Republican rural district.
‘It’s also catastrophic for our animal disease control – right now we’re trying stop . . . African Swine Fever, and when you gut this bill, you no longer have the funds to protect our animals here in the U.S.,’ he said.
Feenstra was careful not to directly blame the Freedom Caucus or its allies to Fox News Digital, but warned, ‘Whoever wants to take a big whack at this’ that they were affecting ‘the breadbasket of the world.’
Abortion policy was another point of division in the GOP this week. The agriculture bill included language that would curb access to mail-order abortion pills, a provision that conservatives said would be needed to secure their vote.
But the inclusion of that language is a problem for other Republicans.
‘Some in the Freedom Caucus wanted significantly more spending cuts than were agreed upon. And so that is a big factor in this, as well as some of the language related to abortion that many of us expressed concerns about. And so those are coming forward,’ said freshman Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., who last year took a seat held by a Democrat.
Freedom Caucus members defended their positions that upended the GOP schedule this week.
Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said it’s ‘certainly not true’ that the cuts they are calling for would derail valuable programs. ‘Let me clarify, [agriculture] is, other than the military [and veterans bill], is the one with the very least amount of cuts,’ Good said.
Good also repeated the Freedom Caucus demand that they need to see what all 12 spending bills look like before they can start supporting them on the House floor.
‘We want to know how all the bills fit together, how the whole puzzle fits together before we go down the road with, you know, some bills, and we don’t know we’ve got the cuts in place for the remaining bills,’ he said. ‘And as it applies to [agriculture] specifically, we want to maintain all the conservative policy that’s been in there.’
Freedom Caucus Policy Chair Chip Roy, R-Texas, agreed that a full view of the spending picture is needed before anything else happens. When asked to respond to the comments from rural Republicans, Roy said, ‘Get in a room, and figure out how to get the cuts we need across the board.’
‘We need to stop spending money we don’t have, we need to cut the bureaucracy. You want more money in ag? Go take it from [Health and Human Services]. If you want more money in HHS, go take it from [Department of Homeland Security]. I mean, that’s the way you do your budget at home,’ Roy said.
On the abortion pill provision currently in the bill, Roy said, ‘It’s definitely a problem if that’s not taken care of.’
Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va., also challenged the notion that cuts the Freedom Caucus was seeking could be harmful, and suggested that specific reductions were suggested to House GOP leaders.
‘The idea that there’s no waste or bloat in the bureaucracy is ludicrous . . . in the [agriculture] bill, we have found some of it, quite a lot of it, actually,’ Cline told Fox News Digital. ‘We identified for leadership exactly where those areas are, and hopefully we can find a consensus that gets us across the finish line.’
With Friday’s canceled vote, House lawmakers now have from Sept. 12 until Sept. 30 to pass the remaining 11 of 12 spending bills or some other form of appropriations for the next fiscal year, or risk a partial government shutdown. Earlier in the week, the House managed to pass a bill funding veterans and military construction, which reflects the broad GOP consensus for higher spending levels for veterans.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., the leader of the Main Street Caucus and a top ally of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, downplayed the GOP discord and expressed confidence that the House GOP could come together in time.
‘This is a pretty conservative Republican conference. Most of us ran explicitly, because we wanted to, in a meaningful way, address that $32 trillion debt. And we’re not going to be able to get that done without some decisions that are going to pinch some pretty important programs,’ he said.
‘Now, exactly what those reductions look like, and to exactly what programs, we’re still working that out. But I would tell you, we’re making progress. It’s not going quickly in any given day. But every day, I feel a little bit better about our chances to get there.’