Freedom Caucus rebels against a short-term funding bill with new demands


WASHINGTON — The ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus is demanding a series of conservative policy changes in exchange for giving its support to any short-term funding measure designed to avert a government shutdown on Sept. 30.

The Republican rebels insist that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who floated the idea of a stopgap bill last week, impose conditions that the Democratic-led Senate and President Joe Biden are extremely unlikely to accept.

In a statement Monday, the Freedom Caucus said its official position was that its members would oppose any bill unless it includes its preferred language about border security, new laws to address what it calls the “weaponization” of the Justice Department and the FBI and a shift in some of the Dedense Department’s policies — although it didn’t detail all the changes it wants.

“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 the caucus “vehemently opposed” months ago.

McCarthy is likely to have to take the conservatives’ demands into account given his party’s slim margin of control in the House, as he did in the fight over raising the country’s debt ceiling, when their demands formed the basis for the House Republican negotiating position with the White House.

It is unlikely that Democrats would help supply the votes for McCarthy to pass a short-term spending bill that includes the Freedom Caucus’ policy demands. 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 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, D-N.Y., said in a terse statement responding to the Freedom Caucus demands, “If the House decides to go in a partisan direction it will lead to a Republican caused shutdown.”

A spokesperson said McCarthy doesn’t support “any kind of play to jam” Congress against the holidays with a continuing resolution, or CR, for government funding.

“Any short-term CR would only be necessary as a way to continue working through regular order on bills that include Republican priorities to lower spending in the bureaucracy and bring necessary changes to federal policy, and refocus our military to war-fighting capabilities and defense of our nation,” the spokesperson said.

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 don’t give specifics, some members of the group have called to abolish the FBI entirely or prohibit FBI or other Justice Department 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 it is referring to.

It also said it will “oppose any blank check for Ukraine” in any supplemental spending bills, a sign of opposition to the administration’s request this month to allocate an additional $24 billion for the country’s war against Russia.

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 the Senate have taken divergent paths on government funding. The GOP-led House is pushing for a more partisan bill that would cut 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 poison pills.

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.”

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