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GOP could punt funding fight to January

GOP could punt funding fight to January
© Greg Nash

Chatter among Republicans grew louder Wednesday that Congress may punt its government-funding fight into January rather than tackle a massive, trillion-dollar omnibus package right before the holidays.

With lawmakers scrambling to avert a government shutdown on Dec. 8, GOP leadership has been weighing the length of a continuing resolution, or CR, to keep the government’s lights on while they hash out a broader fiscal 2018 spending deal.

The lawmakers in charge of writing the spending bills prefer a one- to two-week CR, which they think will give them their best shot at finishing their 2018 omnibus package before Christmas. 

But there is a growing consensus on Capitol Hill that there’s just not enough time left to do it. There are just 11 legislative days left in 2017 and Republicans have a long to-do list, including passing a major tax overhaul.

“We need a CR. The question is, how long? If we don’t get the top-line agreement soon, inevitably it will push this beyond Christmas, which I’m not happy about,” Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentSupreme Court denies GOP request to block Pennsylvania gerrymandering decision Dent likens GOP to ‘a dysfunctional family’ on tackling difficult issues GOP lawmaker: Trump should have hit Russia harder in speech MORE (R-Pa.), a senior appropriator and chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, told reporters Wednesday. “Nobody likes doing a CR, but the alternative is a shutdown. 

“If the alternative is a shutdown,” Dent added, “Then, yes, of course I’ll support a CR into January.”

Dent said he had been optimistic earlier this week that GOP and Democratic leaders would be able to soon reach a budget deal on top-line spending numbers, which Appropriation Committee “cardinals” like himself need to begin crafting spending bills.

But Dent now fears that Trump’s tweet declaring “I don’t see a deal!” with Democrats could push fiscal 2018 spending talks well past the holidays.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiGOP lawmaker: Dems not standing for Trump is 'un-American' Rep. Gutiérrez: 'Complete betrayal' if Pelosi backs budget caps deal without DACA Senate leaders say they're zeroing in on two-year budget deal MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP lawmaker: Dems not standing for Trump is 'un-American' Trump called for unity — he didn’t even last a week Overnight Defense: GOP plays hardball by attaching defense funding to CR | US reportedly drawing down in Iraq | Russia, US meet arms treaty deadline | Why the military wants 6B from Congress MORE (D-N.Y.) abruptly pulled out of a meeting at the White House shortly after Trump’s Tuesday morning tweet — a blow up which set negotiations back a full week and could derail efforts to get an omnibus package over the finish line this year.

“Without a [top-line] number, I think we end up in a situation where we get some sort of a short-term CR,” another appropriator, Rep. Chuck FleischmannCharles (Chuck) Joseph FleischmannGOP could punt funding fight to January Lawmakers call on Treasury to take tougher stance on Hamas in Qatar The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on tax-reform bill MORE (R-Tenn.), told The Hill. “I don’t like that” but all other options “are preferable to a government shutdown.” 

Rep. Hal RogersHarold (Hal) Dallas RogersHouse retirement sets off scramble for coveted chairmanship The Hill's 12:30 Report Live coverage: Federal government on brink of shutdown MORE (R-Ky.), a former Appropriations chairman, told reporters that there are all “sorts of possibilities being talked about” right now, including a January CR.

In a meeting with rank-and-file Republicans on Wednesday morning, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 House passes stopgap spending measure with defense money MORE (R-Wis.) walked members through several ways the spending process could play out in the coming weeks.

One of those options was a CR that carried government funding into January, sources in the meeting said. 

But Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHeroin Task Force presses Congress for more funding to fight opioid epidemic GOP eyeing vote to fund the government through March 23 GOP lawmakers describe terrifying scene at train crash MORE (R-Okla.), an Appropriations cardinal like Dent, said GOP leadership wasn’t quite ready to concede that a January CR would be the best path forward.

“They’re not there yet,” Cole told reporters Wednesday. “Until yesterday morning, everybody expected yesterday’s afternoon meeting to happen. So I don’t think they’re in a position right now for a definitive judgment on that.”

“The desire is still to get the work done this year,” he added.

Other issues are threatening to complicate negotiations. Many Democrats and at least one Republican have vowed to oppose any spending legislation that doesn’t include a fix for former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

But the GOP likely doesn’t need Democratic support in the House for a short-term CR, while Senate Democrats would risk being blamed for a shutdown if they blocked it.

Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroHouse passes bill to ease menu labeling rules under ObamaCare Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds New scrutiny for Trump's mental fitness after book, tweets MORE (D-Conn.), an appropriator, declined to say Wednesday whether she would support a January CR.

“We’ll wait to see what we’ve got,” she said. 

A number of Republicans expressed uneasiness with that idea later Wednesday, though most stopped short of vowing to block a January CR.

Former Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresEmboldened conservatives press Ryan to bring hard-right immigration bill to floor House conservatives demand vote on tough border bill to avoid shutdown Congress should stand for rural America by enhancing broadband connectivity MORE (R-Texas) called it a “bad idea,” while Rogers said he “hopes” it doesn’t come to that.

And Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieHouse Republicans' bill would redirect Pakistan aid money to US infrastructure House stays in DC despite threats from GOP leaders Live coverage: Federal government on brink of shutdown MORE (R-Ky.), who typically aligns with the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he would oppose a spending bill that continues funding into January, though he noted he would probably be a “no” on any CR or the omnibus.

But some members of the Freedom Caucus worry that if the extension only lasts through 2017, lawmakers will be more inclined to swallow a bad deal just so they can skip town before Christmas. The far-right group fears Republican leaders will include a DACA fix in the omnibus.

The thinking is that conservatives will have more leverage if they kick negotiations into January.

“If there is going to be a CR, it shouldn’t land right before Christmas. It should land in January,” said one top conservative leader, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanSenate leaders say they're zeroing in on two-year budget deal GOP to play hardball with Dems on funding bill GOP lawmakers say Trump would make mistake in firing Rosenstein MORE (R-Ohio). “No good deal happens right before Christmas.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsHouse passes stopgap spending measure with defense money Senate leaders say they're zeroing in on two-year budget deal Republican agenda clouded by division MORE (R-N.C.) emphasized that his group has not taken a formal position on a CR. But he and other conservatives have personally been making the case to the White House that funding the government through the holiday recess, until perhaps Jan. 15, would be preferable to a bipartisan year-end spending deal that jams conservatives.

“The case has been made to the administration that a four- to five-week CR — with the ability to fund the anomalies for our military — would certainly be a welcome decision by many conservatives,” Meadows told reporters just off the House floor.

Meadows also argued that Congress should vote to raise the debt ceiling as part of any December funding package rather than wait until the U.S. reaches its borrowing limit sometime in January.

“At this point, if it’s coming due in January, why not include it in an end-of-the-year spending deal? Having another fiscal cliff weeks after the last one would not be prudent,” Meadows said before heading off to call Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOvernight Regulation: EPA sued over water rule delay | House passes bill to ease ObamaCare calorie rule | Regulators talk bitcoin | Patient groups oppose FDA 'right to try' bill Mnuchin wants to know how consumer bureau is handling Equifax breach Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group MORE, the White House budget director, to discuss spending and debt issues.