House GOP commits to linking defense spending with stopgap bill

House GOP commits to linking defense spending with stopgap bill
© Greg Nash

House GOP leadership will put a stopgap spending package on the floor next week that fully funds defense through September but provides short-term funding for the rest of the government, Republican lawmakers said Tuesday.

Leadership is moving ahead with the plan in an effort to appease defense hawks and conservatives, even though pairing defense spending with a short-term extension of other programs is likely dead on arrival in the Senate.

But showing the conference that the defense-first approach will fail in the upper chamber would give House leadership some cover to revert to a plan B: a continuing resolution (CR) that keeps the government’s lights on until the New Year.

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That would also buy lawmakers some more time to write a massive, trillion-dollar omnibus package.

“We have to go through a series of false starts before we get down to reality. I suspect we will indulge those who feel this is tactically smart to do defense plus CR,” Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentGOP House candidate placed on leave from longtime position after sexual misconduct allegation Election handicapper moves GOP leader's race to 'toss-up' The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Pa.), an Appropriations cardinal, told reporters Tuesday. “I think everybody with a pair of eyes and ears knows that the defense piece will be stripped out and sent back.”

“Then there will be disappointment, drama, and yelling and screaming. And then we’ll avert a shutdown before Dec. 22,” he added.

The game of legislative chicken comes as Congress is facing a tight deadline to pass another bill to fund the government, after kicking the can for two weeks in an effort to buy more negotiating time.

Republican leaders now face a Dec. 22 cutoff point, and are adamant that they will not allow the government to close.

Further complicating spending talks is that defense hawks and conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus threatened to derail a vote on a two-week funding bill, which was needed to avoid a government shutdown last week, unless they got a commitment from leadership to boost money for the Pentagon before the end of the year.

To lock up the necessary Republican votes for the stopgap measure, House GOP leadership promised to push for a spending package that would fund defense at higher levels through September as part of the next CR.

Leadership presented the defense-first strategy at conference, according to lawmakers on Tuesday. The stopgap measure is also likely to include disaster aid and funding for an expired children’s health program, lawmakers said.

“Fund defense for the full year. The rest of that stays as a CR,” said Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThree scenarios for how leadership races could play out in the House New Dem ad uses Paterno, KKK, affair allegations to tar GOP leaders Department of Education launches investigation into OSU sexual abuse allegations MORE (R-Ohio), former chairman of the Freedom Caucus. "That was what was presented at conference.”

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanKrystal Ball: GOP tax cut is 'opiate of the massively privileged' Top GOP lawmaker: Tax cuts will lower projected deficit GOP super PAC seizes on Ellison abuse allegations in ads targeting Dems MORE (R-Wis.) kept his cards close to the vest on Tuesday, but said that the House would put together a funding bill that “reflects our priorities.”

“Our plan is to send an appropriation bill over to the Senate so they can start dealing with appropriations. So that's what we're going to do then,” he told reporters. “We're going to put together a bill that reflects our priorities and send that over to the Senate after tax reform.”

Ryan’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

The defense-stopgap measure could pass the House, but it is unlikely to pass the Senate, where eight Democratic votes are needed to overcome a filibuster.

Pairing a full year of defense spending with a CR is a nonstarter with Senate Democrats. On Tuesday, 44 of them signed onto a letter vowing to oppose a combination CR-omnibus that includes a full year of military spending.

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeTrump faces long odds in avoiding big spending bill Paul Ryan would be ‘perfect fit’ to lead AEI, Republicans say This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (R-Okla.), an Appropriations cardinal, said that “doesn’t mean you don’t run the play and see what happens.”

But that sets up the likely scenario that the Senate will either have to strip out the defense funding from the bill and send it back to the House, or wait for the House to pass a clean CR.

But with less than two weeks left before the government runs out of money — and with Republicans also scrambling to finish their final tax bill before Christmas and reach a deal on top-line spending numbers — leadership has little time to spare.

“I think [leaders] surely know the odds of jamming the Senate,” Cole said. “It’s not impossible, but you better have an alternative. That can’t be your only play.”

— Jordain Carney contributed to this report.