Right scrambles GOP budget strategy

Right scrambles GOP budget strategy
© Greg Nash

House GOP leaders’ strategy to avert a government shutdown was thrown into uncertainty Tuesday amid growing demands from conservative hard-liners and defense hawks.

While no final decisions had been made as of late Tuesday, one option gaining traction would be for lawmakers to pass a two-week continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded through Dec. 22.

Under that scenario, the House then would pass a longer-term defense spending bill before the end of the year. The measure would move in tandem with another short-term patch to fund the government through late January.

But leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who threatened to derail a procedural tax vote on Monday night to gain more leverage in the spending talks, have been pushing for an initial CR that lasts through Dec. 30, warning that lawmakers would face far greater pressure to accept a bad spending deal right before Christmas.

“We’ve had a great conversation. No deal yet,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsFreedom Caucus lawmakers call on DOJ to probe Rosenstein allegations House GOP questions FBI lawyer for second day Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus MORE (R-N.C.) said as he and his conservative ally, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Freedom Caucus members see openings in leadership Jordan interviewed in OSU investigation into alleged doctor's sex abuse MORE (R-Ohio), emerged from a meeting in the Speaker’s office.

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The Freedom Caucus will meet Wednesday morning to determine how to respond to the various options. Conservatives said the annual White House holiday party for lawmakers and their spouses prevented them from meeting Tuesday evening.

Meadows and his predecessor as Freedom Caucus chairman, Jordan, were among the key negotiators who huddled with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanDems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia National Dems make play in Ohio special election Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin MORE (R-Wis.) in his second-floor suite on Tuesday afternoon to hash out a last-minute deal to avert a shutdown.

They were joined at the meeting by two leaders of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerGOP leaders jockey for affection of House conservatives Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Senators seek data on tax law's impact on charitable giving MORE (N.C.) and Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingOn The Money: Fed chief lays out risks of trade war | Senate floats new Russia sanctions amid Trump backlash | House passes bill to boost business investment House passes bipartisan bill to boost business investment On The Money: US files complaints at WTO | House leaders get deal to boost biz investment | Mnuchin says US will consider Iran sanctions waivers | FCC deals blow to Sinclair-Tribune merger MORE (Texas), and a pair of top defense hawks, Armed Services Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Trump roils NATO on summit's first day | Trump, Merkel relationship sinks lower | House, Senate kick off defense bill talks | Senators symbolically rebuke Trump on national security tariffs Overnight Health Care: Pfizer delaying price hikes after Trump criticism | Dems focus on health care in Supreme Court fight | Feds won’t reunite all 102 detained children by deadline | VA nominee headed to Senate floor vote FDA approves freeze-dried blood plasma for troops in combat MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyHillicon Valley: New FTC chief eyes shake up of tech regulation | Lawmakers target Google, Huawei partnership | Microsoft employees voice anger over ICE contract Lawmakers urge Google to drop partnership with Chinese phone maker Huawei Trump faces criticism for photo with mostly white male lawmakers discussing migrant family separations MORE (R-Wyo.).

Leadership had been prepared to forge ahead with a clean Dec. 22 CR, but then abruptly delayed a House Rules Committee vote on the two-week funding bill that was planned for Tuesday. The Rules vote, now set for Wednesday, means the House may not bring the stopgap funding bill to the floor until Thursday, just one day before current funding expires.

Rank-and-file Republicans say they have no appetite for a shutdown, and Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Senate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee MORE (R-Ky.) have already vowed that the government’s lights will stay on past Friday’s deadline.

Republicans have in the past had to rely on House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia GOP looks to blunt Dems’ attacks on rising premiums Who will be the ‘bridge’ for the Democrats? MORE (D-Calif.) and the Democrats to pass stopgap funding bills. But House Republicans said Tuesday they believe they can muster the 218 votes needed to send a CR to the Senate on their own.

GOP leaders on Tuesday made the case to rank-and-file lawmakers that extending funding to Dec. 22 would give Republicans a window to pass a tax bill, then turn their focus back to spending issues.

“It takes the focus off everything else and puts it on tax reform,” said Rep. Dennis RossDennis Alan RossTrump, GOP launch full-court press on compromise immigration measure GOP will vote on immigration next week, sinking discharge petition GOP centrists face decision day on Dreamer petition MORE (Fla.), a senior member of the GOP whip team.

Demands from defense hawks also are gumming up CR talks. Emerging from Ryan’s office on Tuesday, Thornberry reiterated they’re reluctant to back a stopgap bill unless spending caps are lifted and funding is boosted for the Pentagon through the rest of the 2018 fiscal year.

“A CR hurts the military, does damage to the military every single day,” Thornberry told reporters, “and with accidents increasing, North Korea lobbing missiles toward us, we cannot afford to continue to inflict that sort of damage to our military.

“Defense is too important to use as a political football,” he said.

Rep. Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonJordan weathering political storm, but headwinds remain US lawmakers celebrate the royal wedding May brings key primaries across nation MORE (R-N.C.), who represents Fort Bragg, said he had lunch with Ryan and other lawmakers on Tuesday to express his concerns with how a temporary funding patch would hurt the military community.

“Most of us who understand national security know how harmful CRs are to the military,” Hudson told The Hill.

It’s unclear whether Democrats would be willing to go along with the emerging GOP plan. Their support would be crucial in the Senate, where at least eight Democratic votes would be needed to overcome a filibuster.

Democrats have traditionally insisted that any increase in defense spending above budget caps be paired with an increase in spending on domestic programs. 

“We have to have domestic priorities also,” said Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillOvernight Health Care: Trump officials explore importing prescription drugs | Key ObamaCare, drug pricing regs under review | GOP looks to blunt attacks on rising premiums | Merck to lower some drug prices Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s walk-back fails to stem outrage on Putin meeting MORE (D-Mo.).

But “I’m not going to draw a line in the sand until I see what it looks like,” she added.

Many Democrats and some moderate Republicans have also been demanding that any spending legislation that stretches into 2018 include a fix for former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants work permits to certain young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats slam Trump for considering Putin’s ’absurd’ request to question Americans Judge Kavanaugh confounds the left This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (D-N.Y.), who will sit down with Pelosi, Ryan, McConnell and Trump at the White House on Thursday to discuss a funding deal, batted down suggestions on Tuesday that a fight over the Obama-era immigration program will spark a government shutdown.

“We don’t think we’re going to get to that. There are good negotiations occurring between Democrats and Republicans to come up with a good DACA program, as well as some good border security,” Schumer said when asked if Democrats will support the year-end spending bill.

He added that Democrats “think we’re moving in the right direction there.”

Another complication on a funding bill is the commitment that McConnell gave to Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Overnight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements Senate panel to vote next week on banning 'gag clauses' in pharmacy contracts MORE (R-Maine) to help win her vote for the tax-reform bill. McConnell pledged to support passage of two bipartisan ObamaCare fixes before the end of the year, which could be attached to a funding bill.

But House conservatives say they oppose the measures and see them as simply propping up ObamaCare, raising questions about whether the measures can pass the House.

In addition, Ryan’s office told a meeting of staff from the top four congressional leadership offices on Monday that the Speaker was not part of the deal between McConnell and Collins, and does not have the same commitment to pass the ObamaCare bills, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

Ryan told reporters Tuesday he was having “continued discussions with our members” about the health-care issue.

Collins told reporters Tuesday when asked about objections from House conservatives that she would have to have “absolute assurance” about the ObamaCare bills passing if the vote on the final tax bill comes before that.

“I still believe that the commitment that was given to me will be kept and I have no reason to believe that it won’t be,” she said.

Peter Sullivan and Jordain Carney contributed.