Republicans eye opening move in fight on funding

Republicans eye opening move in fight on funding
© Greg Nash

House Republican leaders are moving ahead with a plan to pass a government-funding bill that pairs a full year of defense spending with a short-term extension of other programs.

GOP leadership presented the idea during their conference meeting on Tuesday as members debated how to avoid a government shutdown on Dec. 22, when funding is set to expire.

Conservatives earlier this month demanded that leadership commit to funding the military for a full year in the next government funding package, and Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerFlorida shooting reopens CDC gun research debate Right revolts on budget deal Judge overturns ex-felon voting rights process in Florida MORE (R-N.C.), the head of the Republican Study Committee, said House GOP leadership has agreed to pursue that approach.

“I’ll take him at his word,” Walker said last week of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill's 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.). “This was part of our meeting, that he’s working on our behalf.”

Ryan on Tuesday kept his cards close to the vest, 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. We’re going to put together a bill that reflects our priorities and send that over to the Senate after tax reform,” he told reporters.

Pairing a full year of defense spending with a continuing resolution is a non-starter with Senate Democrats. On Tuesday, 44 of them signed onto a letter vowing to oppose a resolution that includes a full year of military spending.

“There is a better path — let the bipartisan negotiation continue in good faith so that Democrats and Republicans can produce a budget agreement that fully funds our homeland security, health care, and Veterans’ needs. If presented with partisan legislation that leaves these key priorities behind, we will oppose it,” the Democratic senators wrote.

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. 

That would 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 DentPennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map Outgoing GOP rep: Republican Party 'heading into trouble' in election Sunday shows preview: Russian charges, Florida shooting dominate coverage 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.”

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 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.

“There isn’t any chance that we’re going to shut the government down. We’re in discussions. ... The American people need not worry that there is going to be any kind of government shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) told reporters during a weekly press conference on Tuesday.

He added, “I don’t think the Democrats want to do it, and we don’t either.”

But both sides are trading fire as they try to lock down an agreement on funding, as well as a separate deal on raising the budget caps to avoid mandatory cuts that are scheduled to take effect in January.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Schumer: Trump budget would ‘cripple’ gun background checks Schumer: Senate Republicans' silence 'deafening' on guns, Russia MORE (D-N.Y.) laid out the Democratic demands on Tuesday, including an equal increase in defense and nondefense spending, funding to combat the opioid epidemic, and a fix for a key Obama-era immigration program.

“These negotiations are advancing well but many issues remain to be resolved,” he said.

Schumer added that Democrats are negotiating a legislative replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in exchange for a “significant investment in border security.”

The fight over DACA has emerged as one of the key sticking points in the talks.

GOP leadership and the White House have been adamant an immigration deal won’t be air dropped into the year-end bill.

They’re also betting that Democrats will not force a government shutdown over the DACA fight.

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzSchatz's ignorance of our Anglo-American legal heritage illustrates problem with government Dem senator trolls Trump over Mueller indictments: 'This is a VERY well done hoax' Trashing our Anglo-American legal tradition does no one any favors MORE (D-Hawaii) said that Congress needs to pass a legislative fix but declined to say if he would oppose a short-term continuing resolution with a promise to deal with DACA in January.

“Whether we get it done this week or next week, or this month or next month, remains to be seen,” he said. “[But] I don’t make shutdown threats.”

Schumer, McConnell, Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiLawmakers feel pressure on guns Former Pelosi challenger: I have no 'interest in running for leadership again' Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March MORE (D-Calif.), as well as their staffs, have been locked down in negotiations with the White House over the spending deals and the budget caps.

A Democratic aide said on Tuesday that the five negotiators are “continuing to make progress.”

It’s a reversal from last month, when negotiations appeared to go off the rails after Trump tweeted ahead of a meeting with congressional leadership that he didn’t “see a deal.”

Democrats believe they have leverage in the funding fight because Republicans will need their votes in the Senate. With a 52-seat majority, McConnell will need at least eight Democratic votes to pass a government-funding bill.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem wins Kentucky state House seat in district Trump won by 49 points GOP's tax reform bait-and-switch will widen inequality Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived MORE (R-Ky.), a perennial no vote on spending bills, said on Tuesday that he couldn’t support an end-of-year bill that increased the deficit.

“I promised Kentucky to vote against reckless deficit spending and I will do just that,” Paul said in a video.

Meanwhile, House GOP leadership could be forced to lean on Democrats for help if they can’t win over

Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Calls mount from Dems to give platform to Trump accusers  Citing deficits, House GOP to take aim at entitlements MORE (D-Md.), the House minority whip, said Democrats would oppose another short-term spending bill unless there is a larger deal on the budget caps.

Lawmakers are staring down automatic spending cuts starting in January without a larger budget deal, because spending levels are higher than the 2018 caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCornyn: We'll need at least one more stopgap funding bill Moore supporters fire back at Richard Shelby Disaster aid becomes hostage to funding fight MORE (R-Ala.) said lawmakers are closing in on a deal on spending cap numbers.

“[There’s] a lot of discussions. We get close, but they haven’t crystallized,” he told reporters.

Mike Lillis and Melanie Zanona contributed.