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Johnson begins House speakership with focus on debt, inflation, ‘border catastrophe’ as top issues

Johnson might move forward with a temporary funding bill that would expire in January but the funding levels are not yet clear, a GOP congressman revealed

Published: October 25, 2023 11:00pm

Updated: October 25, 2023 11:13pm

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., the newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives kicked off his leadership role on Wednesday with a commitment to establish a fiscal commission dedicated to rolling back excessive government spending as a way to reduce inflation. He also called on the Senate and White House to stop ignoring the “catastrophe” at the southern border.

Johnson described the nation’s rising $33 trillion national debt as the greatest threat to national security and connected it to the level of inflation that America’s families have been grappling with the last few years.

“The greatest threat to our national security is our nation's debt and while we’ve been sitting in this room – that's right – the debt has crossed almost $33.6 trillion and in time it’s going to take me to deliver this speech, we will go up $20 million in debt. It’s unsustainable,” Johnson said on the House floor to a standing ovation from Republicans and a handful of Democrats seated in the chamber.

“We have to get the country back on track. We know this isn’t going to be an easy task and tough decisions will have to be made but the consequences if we don’t act now are unbearable. We have a duty to the American people to explain this to them so they understand it well and we’re going to establish a bipartisan debt commission to begin working on this crisis immediately,” he added after formally taking the gavel.

At this point, Congress has until Nov. 17 to pass a federal budget to avoid a government shutdown. The White House and congressional leaders will soon be negotiating on an agreed upon level of federal spending, which will be the first major test of Johnson's speakership.

Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., a member of the House Budget Committee, told Just the News on Wednesday that the GOP-led House might pass a temporary spending bill or "Continuing Resolution" through January.

"I don't like CRs. I definitely don't like omnibuses being crammed, you know, during the Thanksgiving or the Christmas holidays has got to end," he said. "But he'll [Johnson] have some leeway on that. He's talking about January and we'll see what the overall numbers look like and then go from there."

The House has been working on passing single subject appropriations bills to fund each cabinet agency separately, which conservatives argue is a way to reduce wasteful spending. The House lost time in that process given that votes were frozen while the GOP conference searched for a speaker after McCarthy's ousting. 

The deficit for fiscal year 2023 came in at a record $1.7 trillion. President Biden’s revised student loan plan is not factored into the FY2023 deficit, which is estimated to cost about $475 billion over 10 years, according to a recent study.

Johnson, who was vice chair of the House GOP conference before his election as speaker, argued that reining in federal spending would help curb inflation. 

“The skyrocketing cost of living is unsustainable and Americans shouldn't have to worry about how they're going to feed their family every week because they can't afford their groceries anymore. Everybody in this room should think about this,” he challenged. “Here are the stats: prices increased by 17% last two years. Credit card rates are at the highest levels and mortgage rates are at a peek we haven't seen since 2001. We have to bring relief to the American people by reining in federal spending and bringing down inflation.”

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy put a 45-day continuing resolution up for a vote on the House floor to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1. The bill received votes from Republicans and Democrats. This move led to his ouster after Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., introduced a motion to vacate the chair, which passed on Oct. 3 with 8 Republican votes and votes from all Democrats who were present. 

Johnson on Wednesday also emphasized that illegal immigration is putting stress on America’s cities and towns, calling on both parties to come together to address the situation.

“We have a catastrophe at our southern border. The Senate and the White House can no longer ignore the problem. From Texas to New York, wave after wave of illegal migrants are stressing our communities to their breaking points. We know that our streets are being flooded with fentanyl in all of our communities. Children and even adults are dying from it,” he said. “The status quo is unacceptable. Inaction is unacceptable and we must come together to address the broken border. We have to do it.”

Johnson revealed that he pledged to members of the GOP conference that he would begin “decentralizing” the power of the speaker’s office.

"The job of the speaker of the House is to serve the whole body and I will but I made a commitment to my colleagues here that this speaker's office is going to be known for decentralizing the power here. My office is going to be known for members being more involved and having more influence in our processes in all the major decisions that are made here for predictable processes and regular order. We owe that to the people," he said.

"I want to make this commitment to you, to my colleagues here and the other side of aisle as well, my office is known for trust, transparency and accountability, for good stewardship of the people's treasure, for the honesty and integrity that is incumbent upon us, all of us, here in the people's house. Our system of government is not a perfect system. It has a lot of challenges but it's still the best one in the world and we have an opportunity to preserve it," he added.

Rep. Cory Mills, R-Fla., told Just the News he supports Johnson's goal of "member driven, not speaker driven" solutions because that approach "decentralizes power and returns it to the people."

He also said Johnson is focused on oversight of the Biden administration heading into his speakership.

"I know he's going to move forward to supporting the necessary subpoenas that James Comer, that Jason Smith, and that Jim Jordan have been continually looking at," said Mills, a House Foreign Relations Committee member, on the "Just the News, No Noise" TV program. "I know that he's going to look at actually getting an economic growth strategy by having our Economic Commission in place, our Budget Commission I should say, and I know for a fact that he's going to look at securing our border, which is the top issue for all Americans right now."

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