House rolls the dice in spending bill fight

House GOP leaders are pushing ahead with a risky strategy to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week: passing a bill that they know is dead on arrival in the Senate.

The current plan for the House is to put a bill on the floor later this week that links a full year of funding for defense with a stopgap measure that funds domestic programs until Jan. 19.

But Republicans know the legislation will likely fail in the upper chamber, meaning the House may end up having to pass a clean continuing resolution (CR) with the help of Democrats — something that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders jockey for affection of House conservatives Five GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump walks back criticism of UK Brexit strategy | McConnell worries US in 'early stages' of trade war | US trade deficit with China hits new record MORE (R-Wis.) had sought to avoid, and a move that would almost certainly generate blowback from House conservatives.

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“If the Senate sends back a clean CR, you’d lose some Republican votes. You presumably would get some Democratic votes,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeGOP centrists face decision day on Dreamer petition Bipartisan support for medical research is good news for all Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE MORE (R-Okla.), the chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee. “But you’re not going to be able to make that call until we go through the motions.”

 

Further raising the stakes is that Republicans are focusing their energy on passing a historic overhaul of the tax code in the next few days, meaning they will have little time to avert a shutdown on Friday at midnight. 

Republican leaders are facing the Dec. 22 cutoff point after passing a two-week extension of funding earlier this month. They are adamant that they will not allow the government to close. 

Defense hawks and conservative members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus had threatened to derail the previous two-week CR unless they got a commitment from leadership to boost money for defense before the end of the year. They worry that another CR would be harmful to the military. 

To lock up the necessary Republican votes for the last stopgap measure, House GOP leadership promised to push for a spending package that would fund defense at higher levels through September. The bill headed to the floor does exactly that. 

The House Rules Committee is slated to meet Tuesday afternoon to prepare the defense–CR package for a floor vote, which could occur as soon as Wednesday. 

To sweeten the pot, leaders included funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expired in September. They could also attach an $81 billion disaster aid bill for hurricane-ravaged regions in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The relief package was initially expected to be unveiled Friday, but was delayed to iron out last-minute concerns.

However, even with CHIP and disaster aid, lawmakers acknowledge that the defense-first strategy is unlikely to fly in the Senate, where eight Democratic votes would be needed to overcome a filibuster. 

Forty-four Democrats signed onto a letter vowing to oppose a combination CR–defense omnibus that includes a full year of military spending, citing concerns with prioritizing defense over nondefense programs. 

The Senate may also try to attach a pair of bipartisan ObamaCare fixes to the CR that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Ky.) promised Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts MORE (R-Maine) in exchange for her vote on tax reform. House conservatives have flatly rejected that idea. 

“It’s not all worked out. As usual, it all hinges on the Senate,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Thursday. “They goofed up health care. We’ve had 12 appropriations bills over there for 90 days and now they’re not ready to go on this. We’re just waiting on, what are they going to do?” 

Lawmakers say the Senate will either strip out the defense piece from the bill or offer their own four-week CR as an amendment and send it back to the House, where Ryan would likely need the help of Democrats to pass it.

Democrats have backed off their demands to include protections in the stopgap bill for young immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, but have been insistent that they will not back an increase for defense without a boost for nondefense programs as well. 

Republicans have in the past had to rely on House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTop Democrats request meeting with intel chief over sharing of classified info Overnight Defense: Fears rise over Trump-Putin summit | McCain presses Trump to hold Putin 'accountable' for hacking | Pentagon does damage control after NATO meet 'Our Cartoon President' takes on Mueller probe, NATO and Melania in second season MORE (D-Calif.) and the Democrats to pass stopgap funding bills. However, House leaders were able to muster enough GOP votes to send the last CR to the Senate on their own. 

If the House ends up passing a stopgap bill with Democrats this week, it could spark a revolt from conservatives, who already worry that Ryan may cut an unpopular deal with Democrats on other contentious issues like immigration and the debt ceiling next year. 

House conservatives want leadership to just jam the Senate with the defense–CR package, daring Democrats to vote against military spending, disaster aid and children’s health insurance. 

But Ryan and other GOP leaders are especially eager to avoid a shutdown right after passage of the tax bill, which would threaten to overshadow their first big legislative achievement under President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE

“I believe we will pass the CR that will fund the government into January,” Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentEx-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Dem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms Fortenberry named chairman of legislative appropriations subcommittee in House MORE (R-Pa.), also the chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee, told CNN on Monday. “Bottom line is, there will not be a government shutdown.”

“But accidents could happen,” he added.