The House Republicans’ math problems and the country’s – Washington Examiner

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., and the House Republican leadership depart after meeting with reporters as lawmakers work to pass the final set of spending bills to avoid a partial government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 20, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Republicans face a basic math problem: with just 219 votes, their majority isn’t very big.

That means that if they try to pass legislation along party lines, they can afford basically no defections, at most a single holdout.

If House Republicans cannot pass legislation by themselves, they will need to rely on Democratic votes or the legislation will not pass.

Conservatives in the House, like the Freedom Caucus, are a minority of this small majority. They do not have the votes to curtail federal spending by themselves. They can only do so by withholding their votes from leadership-backed legislation that doesn’t go far enough on cutting spending.

Sometimes that works. But there are also centrist GOP lawmakers from swing districts, including some carried by President Joe Biden in 2020, that won’t necessarily go along with Freedom Caucus budgetary stances or risk a government shutdown.

If conservatives cannot get Republicans to coalesce around their position, it increases GOP leadership’s reliance on Democratic votes.

The more Democratic votes GOP leaders need, the worse the policy outcomes will be for conservatives.

That’s where House Republicans find themselves right now, as a $1.2 trillion spending bill passed the chamber in a 286-134 vote, with 112 of the nays coming from GOP lawmakers. Less than half the conference voted in favor. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), like former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy before him, has seemingly averted a government shutdown. But each big vote that relies on Democrats to pass puts the gavel in danger, as only a handful of conservatives is necessary to push a motion to vacate.

McCarthy was ousted as speaker last year, paving the way for Johnson to take over after multiple failed attempts to install other Republican leaders from various factions of the party.

“We need a new speaker,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) told reporters Friday. “This is not personal against Mike Johnson. He’s a very good man, and I have respect for him as a person, but he is not doing the job. The proof is in the vote count today. He passed a budget that should have never been brought to the floor, did not represent our conference, and it was passed with the Democrats.”

“Speaker Johnson always listens to the concerns of members but is focused on governing,” Johnson spokesman Raj Shah shot back. “He will continue to push conservative legislation that secures our border, strengthens our national defense, and demonstrates how we’ll grow our majority.”

Greene represents the House GOP’s right flank, but her support for McCarthy during the last speakership fight produced her own rift with the Freedom Caucus.

Conservatives feel they need to use this kind of leverage to keep House leaders from cutting progressively worse deals with Democrats. But the more the House Republican Conference fractures, the more reliant the chamber becomes on the Democratic minority to function.

House Republicans are deeply split on whether the best way to prevail at the ballot box this year is to try to keep promises to conservative voters at all costs or to avoid shutdowns and signs of chaos.

It only takes a few Republicans on each side to make it impossible to govern without Democratic help.

That’s where the House Republicans’ basic math problem becomes the country’s.

Federal spending keeps going up. So does the national debt, with no end in sight. 

Tiny Republican majorities aren’t able to stop this train. Conservatives complain they aren’t even slowing it down.

Meanwhile, the latest Biden budget proposal clocks in at $7.3 trillion.


“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money,” is a possibly apocryphal quote often attributed to former Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen. 

Revise to “trillion” and the real money bill has come due.