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Johnson Faces the Same Spending Dilemmas That Plagued McCarthy

Newly installed Speaker Mike Johnson is confronting a multitude of crises during his first days in office, chief among them a deadline just weeks away to avert a government shutdown and an urgent request from President Biden for a behemoth $105 billion aid bill for Israel and Ukraine.

They are two of the issues that have most bitterly divided the House Republican conference and helped lead to the ouster of his predecessor. Now it falls to Mr. Johnson, a fourth-term congressman who has never served in a top leadership position before, to try to keep his anti-spending party united and the government open — all in a matter of weeks.

The previous speaker, Kevin McCarthy, found it impossible to corral recalcitrant Republicans to pass legislation to keep federal funding flowing and prevent a politically and economically damaging shutdown. At the last moment, he turned to Democrats to push through a bill to extend the deadline through Nov. 17, a move that prompted hard-right Republicans to force him out.

Mr. Johnson was among a majority of Republicans who opposed that stopgap spending bill. He has also opposed continued aid for Ukraine for its war against Russian aggression, and he said on Wednesday that he wanted to see “conditions” imposed on additional U.S. aid.

As he sought the speakership in recent days, Mr. Johnson has also suggested that he would back a temporary measure to keep government funding flowing through January or April to allow more time to pass all 12 individual annual spending bills, a key demand of the hard right. But he has not said what spending levels he would favor.

In the days leading up to the government shutdown deadline in September, Mr. McCarthy put forward a stopgap measure that severely slashed spending. Twenty-one conservative lawmakers opposed it, tanking the bill and declaring that they would not vote for a temporary funding measure under any circumstances.

Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina, a member of the Freedom Caucus, suggested that the hard-right flank of the party would be inclined to give Mr. Johnson more leeway on spending than they gave Mr. McCarthy because they trust his conservative bona fides.

“He doesn’t start from the position of way up and go up,” Mr. Norman said of Mr. Johnson and federal spending. “He starts from the position of up and goes down.”

“The problems with McCarthy,” he added, “started with one word: trustworthy.”

Yet Mr. Norman also said he wanted to see a temporary spending bill that slashed spending to prepandemic levels — something that could never pass the Democratic-controlled Senate or be signed by Mr. Biden. That would violate the agreement Mr. McCarthy struck in June with the president to suspend the debt ceiling and cap federal spending.

“Extremist funding bills that make cuts way below the bipartisan June agreement will not fly,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. “If Speaker Johnson tries to send those cuts over here, they’re not going to happen. They’ll be dead on arrival. All they will do is waste more time at a moment when every day counts.”

Mr. Schumer continued: “I told Speaker Johnson the exact same thing I told Speaker McCarthy: In a divided government, the only way we’ll fund the government or pass supplemental is bipartisanship.”

Mr. Johnson will face another test as Congress considers the Biden administration’s funding request for Israel and Ukraine — a $105 billion package that could end up getting folded into a stopgap funding measure. The Senate, where the measure is far more popular, is holding a hearing on the aid package next week.

In September, when lawmakers were racing to try to avoid a government shutdown, a bipartisan Senate stopgap plan included $6 billion for Ukraine. But Mr. McCarthy stripped the aid from his plan, recognizing the sharp decline in Republican support for sending more federal dollars to Kyiv. Democrats swallowed the plan in the interest of keeping the government open, arguing that Congress would return to the issue and pass a larger aid package later in the year.

It is not clear how Mr. Johnson, who has voted repeatedly against sending additional aid to Ukraine, plans to handle the emergency spending request. He has expressed strong support for aiding Israel in its fight against Hamas.

And asked by a reporter on Wednesday night if he supported sending additional aid to Ukraine, Mr. Johnson replied, “We all do.”

But he added that his backing would not be absolute. “We’re going to have conditions on that,” Mr. Johnson said. “We want accountability and we want objectives that are clear from the White House.”

The hard-right members of his party have already declared the measure dead on arrival.

“For the House GOP under Speaker Mike Johnson this is an obvious HARD NO,” Representative Chip Roy of Texas, an influential anti-spending conservative, wrote on social media. “We will not join Israel and Ukraine, we will not throw money at the border, & all supplementals must be paid for — as a starter. Game on.”

Luke Broadwater and Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

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