WASHINGTON — The ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus is demanding a series of conservative policy changes in exchange for giving their support to any short-term funding measure designed to avert a government shutdown on Sept. 30.
The Republican rebels are insisting that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who floated the idea of a stopgap bill last week, impose conditions that are extremely unlikely to be accepted by the Democratic-led Senate and President Joe Biden.
In a statement Monday, the Freedom Caucus said its official position was that the group’s members would oppose any bill unless it includes their preferred language on border security, new laws to address what they call the “weaponization” of the Justice Department and FBI and a shift in some of the Pentagon’s policies — although they didn’t detail all the changes they want.
“We refuse to support any such measure that continues Democrats’ bloated COVID-era spending and simultaneously fails to force the Biden Administration to follow the law and fulfill its most basic responsibilities,” the statement said, adding that any short-term bill that continues funding at current levels represents a position they “vehemently opposed” months ago.
The speaker will likely have to take the conservative demands into account given his party’s slim margin of control in the House, as he did during the fight over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, when their demands formed the basis for the House Republican negotiating position with the White House.
It is unlikely Democrats would help supply the votes for McCarthy to pass a short-term spending bill that includes the policy demands of the Freedom Caucus. And if they did, conservatives have held open the option to retaliate by forcing a vote to overthrow him as speaker.
After the group issued its demands, House Democratic leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, tweeted: “House Republicans are determined to shutdown the government and crash our economy. We will fight these MAGA extremists every step of the way.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a terse response to the Freedom Caucus demands: “If the House decides to go in a partisan direction it will lead to a Republican caused shutdown,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
What the Freedom Caucus is demanding
The conservative lawmakers said any short-term funding bill must include a House-passed GOP border security bill that would boost the number of Border Patrol agents, require the Homeland Security Secretary to resume construction of the border wall and limit the ability of some migrants to seek asylum in the U.S.
The group said a bill must also “address the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI to focus them on prosecuting real criminals instead of conducting political witch hunts and targeting law-abiding citizens.” While they do not give specifics, some members of the group have called to abolish the FBI entirely or prohibit DOJ or FBI employees from being paid if they were found to have retaliated against a whistleblower.
The Freedom Caucus added that any short-term spending bill must “end the Left’s cancerous woke policies in the Pentagon undermining our military’s core warfighting mission.” It is unclear which policies they are referring to.
They also said they will “oppose any blank check for Ukraine” in any supplemental spending bills, a sign of opposition to a request from the administration earlier this month to allocate an additional $24 billion for the country’s war against Russia.
The red line from the Freedom Caucus comes after McCarthy told Republicans last week he believed a short-term bill was necessary to buy more time, with little chance of passing all 12 appropriations bills by the Sept. 30 deadline. If no funding bill becomes law by then, it will force a shutdown of many federal government services.
The House and Senate have taken divergent paths on government funding. The GOP-led House is pushing for a more partisan bill that cuts funding below levels agreed to in a recent budget deal, while the Senate is taking a bipartisan approach and avoiding controversial policy measures that either party sees as a poison pill.
The Freedom Caucus suggested Monday it could oppose future stopgap funding bills as well.
“Furthermore,” the Freedom Caucus statement continued, “we will oppose any attempt by Washington to revert to its old playbook of using a series of short-term funding extensions to push Congress up against a December deadline to force the passage of yet another monstrous, budget busting, pork filled, lobbyist handout omnibus spending bill at the year’s end and we will use every procedural tool necessary to prevent that outcome.”