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US House Republicans face possible infighting as they turn to spending

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, U.S., April 17, 2023. REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/File Photo

The U.S. House of Representatives is due to begin voting this week on a series of Republican spending bills for fiscal 2024 that could lead to a new standoff between hardline conservatives and party leaders including Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Lawmakers will consider two appropriations bills that would provide $155.7 billion in discretionary spending for military construction and veterans affairs, and a total of $25.3 billion for agriculture, rural development and the Food and Drug Administration, for the fiscal year beginning Oct 1.

The measures also contain a number of provisions that would limit abortion and transgender rights. Hardline conservatives from the House Freedom Caucus have proposed amendments that would address other hot-button topics including immigration, critical race theory and diversity.

But Freedom Caucus members warned on Tuesday that they could withhold support for the two bills, saying they need to be convinced that 2024 spending will come in at a fiscal 2022 level of $1.47 trillion. That is less than what McCarthy agreed in a deal with Democratic President Joe Biden just two months ago.

The White House has said that Biden would veto both of this week’s House appropriations bills if they reached his desk. With House Democrats opposing them as well, McCarthy can afford to lose no more than four votes from his 222-212 Republican majority.

“If we don’t agree with the outcome, we’ll vote against the rule and do whatever we have to do,” Representative Ralph Norman, a prominent Freedom Caucus member, said in an interview.

“Our vote is not just two, three people. It’s 20-plus,” he said.

McCarthy warned hardliners that delaying this week’s bills would only increase the odds of a stopgap funding measure that would “lock in” policies implemented when Democrats controlled Congress.

“I would want to work towards the conservative position. I hope they will join us,” the California Republican told reporters.

The bills are the first of 12 appropriations measures that lawmakers have been crafting to cover every aspect of government funding. While House Republicans argue over spending cuts, the Democratic-led Senate is moving quickly and in a strong bipartisan manner toward legislation with at least $120 billion more spending.

The House and Democratic-led Senate have until the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30 to pass their respective bills and hammer out compromise legislation or risk a partial government shutdown.

Representative Andy Biggs, a Freedom Caucus member, said he does not expect a shutdown and predicted that lawmakers would instead agree to a temporary funding measure known as a “continuing resolution” – though he said members of the hardline Republican group would not vote for one.

“I think that they’ll … run it out till December,” Biggs told reporters on Tuesday.

Congress has not enacted 12 appropriations bills on time since fiscal 1997. Last year, spending bills were all crammed in to a sweeping omnibus measure totalling $1.7 trillion.

Norman and other hardliners shut down the House floor last month to protest the $1.59 trillion spending levels for fiscal 2024 that were contained in the debt ceiling agreement negotiated by Biden and McCarthy.

Republican leaders had initially proposed shifting $115 billion from existing Democratic programs to party priorities in fiscal 2024, to compensate for the cuts sought by Freedom Caucus members. But hardliners want that money used instead to pay down a national debt of more than $31.4 trillion.

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