Mike Johnson adds an interesting twist to the familiar government shutdown plotline

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Is this deja vu or something new?

The broad outlines of the government spending fight as it stands in November are the same as they were in October.

A deadline looms. Funding expires after Friday, November 17, and lawmakers do not have a definitive plan to pass a stopgap government funding bill.

The House speaker is suggesting a temporary fix. But he is not insisting on spending cuts in this particular stopgap bill.

Republicans are split, again. A faction of right-wing Republicans already opposes the direction their leaders are heading. Read more from CNN’s Lauren Fox.

Democrats will be needed to make a majority. Averting a partial government shutdown will again require the votes of Democrats voting with Republicans.

But while a similar brew of factors cost former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy his job a little more than a month ago, there are some important differences that mean McCarthy’s replacement, Mike Johnson, may be on course to avoid a partial government shutdown with relatively little drama, at least for now.

The first is that Johnson, not McCarthy, is doing the negotiating. Still relatively unknown outside of Capitol Hill, Johnson appears to have enough credibility with the right-wing of the party. Anti-spending lawmakers are publicly opposing his approach but not currently threatening his position.

The second important detail is that Johnson has proposed a twist, which he’s calling the “laddered approach.”

Rather than a single bill for all government funding, he is suggesting a two-pronged approach that would fund some of the government – military construction, Veterans Affairs, transportation, housing and the Energy Department – until January 19 and the rest of the government until February 2.

A separate request from the White House for additional military support for Israel and Ukraine is not addressed.

“The bill will stop the absurd holiday-season omnibus tradition of massive, loaded up spending bills introduced right before the Christmas recess,” Johnson said in a statement Saturday, in which he also argued the delay would better position Republicans to fight for spending cuts next year.

The White House initially blasted the approach because it would avert what has traditionally become an end-of-year blitz to pass a government funding bill and instead creates the likelihood of a drawn out spending fight early next year.

But speaking to reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, President Joe Biden was noncommittal.

“We’ll see what happens,” Biden said, noting that negotiations were happening on Capitol Hill.

“I’m not going to make a judgment what I’d veto, what I’d sign,” Biden said. “Let’s wait and see what they come up with.”

CNN’s Manu Raju reported Monday that Senate Democrats have also been noncommittal but have shown more openness to Johnson’s approach, perhaps marveling that it does not include spending cuts prized by Republicans.

Pick the phrase you’d like to qualify that optimism about the current trajectory. The devil is in the details, which we’re still learning. Time will tell, and time is running short.

A procedural vote Tuesday will identify how many Democrats Johnson will need to pass his version of the bill. CNN has identified eight House Republicans currently opposed to Johnson’s laddered approach, and he can only afford to lose four. If Johnson opts to pass the bill without a majority built only of Republicans, it would require a large number of Democrats to set aside House rules.

Regardless, the idea that lawmakers could avert a spending fight crammed into the end of the year is unfamiliar, even if the prospect of continuing the spending standoff on repeat early next year is not appetizing to Democrats.

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