As Congress struggles to do the bare minimum of keeping the government funded, House Republicans are using the annual federal spending bills to try to punish the Biden administration.
Just before hard-right House Republicans staged a floor mutiny over spending on Wednesday that sent lawmakers home early for their Thanksgiving break, they managed one final vote, on a measure to reduce the salary of an obscure Biden administration official to $1.
It was the 25th time in the three weeks since Speaker Mike Johnson was elected to the top post — and at least the 31st time this year — that Republicans have spent time on the House floor using a spending bill to try to strip the salary of a member of President Biden’s team.
On Wednesday, the would-be victims included Xavier Becerra, the health secretary, and Vincent J. Munster, a virus scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Last week, it was Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary. Those efforts all failed when dozens of Republicans refused to back them. But others, such as ones taking aim at Lloyd J. Austin III, the defense secretary, and Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, have succeeded.
The votes are purely symbolic; there is no way the Democratic-led Senate would agree to any of them. But House Republicans’ choice to repeatedly push such proposals highlights their slash-and-burn approach to federal spending, and why Congress is facing such a steep challenge reaching a longer-term deal to fund the government.
In passing a two-phased temporary funding bill this week, House Republican leaders proved that they were able to do the absolute bare minimum of preventing the government from shutting down — but only temporarily, and only with substantial help from Democrats.
Their penchant for salary-stripping illustrates a far more prevalent impulse among House Republicans. Driven by the hard right, which is flatly opposed to federal spending, they have weaponized and politicized the appropriations process, primarily using the power of the purse — the most basic role of Congress — to push their political message and punish the Biden administration.
That has made it exceptionally difficult for House Republican leaders to get their spending bills through the chamber, where their more mainstream members have balked at the most extreme provisions. It is also likely to make it extremely challenging for them to agree on a viable long-term funding deal with the Senate before their new mid-January and early-February deadlines.
The approach goes beyond mere matters of administration officials’ pay. Many right-wing House Republicans have sought to use the spending bills to pick cultural fights over abortion, gender and race issues; to settle political scores; or to draw attention to pet grievances.
Representative Clay Higgins, Republican of Louisiana, took aim at a single federal inspector responsible for regulating safety standards at a salt mine in his district, who the congressman said had a “personal vendetta.”
“These are not just punitive measures,” Mr. Higgins said as he offered multiple proposals on Tuesday afternoon to slash the salaries and budgets of the inspector and a number of other officials who oversee the mine, which is operated by the Morton Salt Company.
Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, called the move “petty.”
“It is beneath the dignity of this body, and it is not how we should solve differences of opinion on policy,” she said.
Representative Ralph Norman, Republican of South Carolina, proposed an amendment that would force Mr. Buttigieg to travel in economy class when taking commercial flights on official business. The measure failed.
But a proposal to cut Mr. Buttigieg’s salary to $1, offered by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, who has pushed many such measures, passed by a voice vote. (The House has yet to pass the bill it was attached to, after Republicans were forced to abruptly pull it from the floor for lack of support within their own ranks.)
Last week, Representative Lauren Boebert, Republican of Colorado, tried to use the spending bill for financial services and an array of other agencies to bar funding “for sanctuary city policies.”
Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the veteran Maryland Democrat and senior appropriator, stood to challenge Ms. Boebert, who is in her second term. He noted that there was no money in the bill for anything related to sanctuary cities, a phrase used by critics to describe cities that limit how local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
“This is just an opportunity for you to stand and perhaps speak about an important subject,” Mr. Hoyer told Ms. Boebert. “I understand that, but there are no funds in this bill to accomplish that objective.”
The proliferation of such proposals this year has its roots in January, when the hard right was blocking Representative Kevin McCarthy’s election as speaker. The House Freedom Caucus demanded an array of concessions in exchange for backing him, including restoration of what is known as the Holman Rule, which allows lawmakers to use spending bills to defund specific programs and fire federal officials or reduce their pay.
That has effectively transformed spending debates in the House into amendment free-for-alls in which Republicans routinely offer their most extreme and parochial proposals.
It has also added to the chaos on the House floor that has hamstrung the appropriations process. Mr. Johnson was forced to yank the annual bill to fund the labor, health and education agencies this week because it lacked support from mainstream Republicans. A similar group also banded together with the hard right on Wednesday to block a separate yearly spending measure for the Commerce and Justice Departments and science programs.
In a heated floor speech on Wednesday, Representative Chip Roy of Texas scolded his fellow Republicans for agreeing to keep the government funded without insisting on any spending cuts or policy conditions.
He was not railing against the scores of partisan proposals the G.O.P. has loaded onto funding bills, many of which he has supported. But his diatribe underscored the dysfunction surrounding his party’s handling of spending bills.
“One thing! I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one! — that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!” Mr. Roy, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, bellowed. “When are we going to do what we said we would do?”