House Republican leaders working to write and pass the spending bills that fund the government face a major hurdle: Their own party — especially their most powerful, arch-conservative faction — has spent the last decade assailing federal spending and, with growing frequency, casting vote after vote against it.
G.O.P. members of the House have supported spending bills less than half the time over the last dozen years, according to a New York Times analysis of such votes since 2011. Hard-right lawmakers associated with the Freedom Caucus, which has been the most outspoken about slashing spending, have voted in favor of government funding bills less than 20 percent of the time. And a smaller bloc of ultraconservative members who have threatened to blockade the House floor if their priorities are not met has almost always voted against appropriations bills — in an average of 93 percent of cases.
Despite all of that, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, working to manage a right-wing revolt, has agreed to tailor the spending bills to the demands of a group of lawmakers who have rarely, if ever, supported such measures during their time in Congress. At their insistence, he has embraced funding levels far below what he agreed to in May as part of a deal with President Biden to suspend the debt limit and avoid a federal default.
The approach could make it difficult to move the bills through the House and place the chamber on a collision course with the Democrat-controlled Senate that could lead to a government shutdown this fall. It promises to further complicate a process that was already going to be extraordinarily difficult, as top members of Congress try for the first time in years to enact individual spending bills to fund all parts of the government in an orderly fashion and avoid the usual year-end pileup.
Mr. McCarthy settled on the strategy after members of the Freedom Caucus last month shut down the House floor to protest the debt-limit deal and made a number of demands, including deeper spending cuts.
“Nobody in America thinks, ‘Oh my God, look at those paragons of virtue and efficiency. Aren’t they just doing a fantastic job with that $600 billion,’” Representative Chip Roy of Texas, an influential member of the Freedom Caucus, said of the federal government.
Mr. Roy, who has said he wants to force cuts to return government spending to pre-Covid levels, is one of 13 House Republicans who have never voted for any kind of spending bill since 2011.
With only four votes to spare and Democrats uniformly opposed, the resistance by the most conservative Republicans will make it extremely difficult for Mr. McCarthy to win approval of any spending bill. Even if he can do so, the resulting bills would likely have no chance of passing the Senate, increasing the prospects of a government shutdown in the fall and automatic across-the-board cuts in 2025.
Some of House Republicans’ perennial objections to spending bills are procedural. Many have protested being forced to vote on one huge, take-it-or-leave-it bill that lumps all federal funding together. But the opposition is also ideological, with hard-liners refusing to vote to fund a federal government they charge has grown bloated and has arrayed its power against conservatives.
And they have railed against what some far-right lawmakers refer to derisively as the “uniparty,” the group of mainstream Republicans and Democrats, including party leaders, who have routinely banded together to do the necessary business of funding the government.
It was not always this way. More than a decade ago, congressional Republicans frequently voted for the bills that funded the government even as they embraced fiscally conservative policies, in part because they were willing to set aside ideology in order to shovel federal money back to their constituents.
But that trend began to shift in 2010, as the anti-tax and -spending Tea Party wave swept through the Republican Party and federal spending became anathema to the G.O.P. base. Instead of championing their efforts to steer as much money as they could to their districts and states, conservative lawmakers became incentivized to rail against federal funding measures and to try to derail as many of them as possible. Support for government funding continued to fall under former President Donald J. Trump, who often threatened to veto spending legislation and presided over the longest government shutdown in American history, and has declined precipitously since Mr. Biden took office.
The picture in the Senate, where the hard right has a smaller foothold, is much different. In that chamber, leaders of the Appropriations Committee in both parties have banded together to advance spending bills they hope can win bipartisan Senate approval on an individual basis for the first time in years. Senate Republicans are also pressing to add money for the Pentagon, which many of them argue was underfunded in the debt-limit deal, a stance that has alarmed conservatives in the House.
Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, said he would be inclined to oppose the emerging House bills unless he saw some substantial action by Republican leaders reflecting a deep commitment to cutting spending.
“I think it is going to take some structural change to convince people that they are serious about what we should be doing,” said Mr. Buck, suggesting that each committee should have a new oversight panel to pursue government waste.
“The No. 1 priority in this place should be the power of the purse, and we just don’t take that seriously,” he said.
Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina, who has voted for just 10 percent of spending bills since arriving in Congress in 2017, said his votes would depend on whether the 12 appropriations bills returned federal spending to 2022 levels, without using any accounting gimmicks. “We’ll see the numbers,” he said. “It’s all about the numbers.”
House Democrats warn that the Republican approach has put Congress on a course to a government shutdown after Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year and the deadline for enacting legislation to keep federal funding flowing.
“We are on a trajectory to shut the government down,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. She said Mr. McCarthy had thrown the spending process into chaos in order to prevent a challenge to his speakership from the far right, catering to a group of ultraconservatives who will ultimately reject the bills anyway.
“It is never going to be good enough for them,” she said. “They are playing a very dangerous game. You need bicameral, bipartisan support to get this done.”
The partisan clash in the House is strikingly different from the dynamic in the Senate. Though Republicans opposed the agency-by-agency allocations set by Democrats, the first measures were approved without objection late in June when the panel held its first session in years to review its bills and even live-streamed the event — a first for a panel that previously shielded much of its work from public scrutiny.
The leaders of the Senate appropriations panel — Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine — have said they are committed to delivering the spending bills and avoiding an end-of-the year mash-up known as an omnibus.
“Keeping the appropriations process moving full-steam ahead and in a bipartisan way is critical,” they said in a joint statement. “Our nation absolutely must be able to count on a dependable appropriations process as we grapple with urgent challenges at home and abroad.”
But conservative firebrands in the House are not inclined to accept measures that Democrats could back.
“I don’t believe for a second, nor do I think most people — at least the real conservatives in the House — believe that we’re going to pass 12 appropriations bills,” said Representative Eli Crane of Arizona, one of the most outspoken members of the Freedom Caucus. “The bottom line is, I don’t think this conference is serious about changing the way this works.”
If Mr. McCarthy resorted to using Democratic votes to pass one big spending bill, Mr. Crane said, he and other members of the hard-right would use “every tool necessary” to take it down, just as they paralyzed the House floor in protest of the debt limit deal.
“You will see the same pressure, the same tactics, and the same effort to use any means necessary to change the way this town works,” Mr. Crane said.
About the data
The vote analysis includes 58 recorded House votes from 2011 to 2023 on spending, budget and debt ceiling measures. Rates were calculated by dividing the number of “Yes” votes by the number of votes taken. All current House Republicans were included in the analysis except for those in their first term, who have not cast enough votes to analyze.
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.