GOP leaders face crunch in Trump's first 100 days

GOP leaders face crunch in Trump's first 100 days
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

Top Republicans involved with Congress’s budget process are worried about the daunting task of funding the government twice next year.

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Leaders of both the House Appropriations and Budget committees fretted Thursday about the breakneck pace they’ll need to take with spending bills next year. Still, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) believes it can be done: “We’ll make it work.”

The House GOP conference decided in a closed-door meeting Thursday morning to push back all major government spending negotiations until March. In the meantime, they will approve a short-term bill funding the government.

The decision to avoid any late deal-making with President Obama was requested by the incoming Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE administration and cheered by hard-line conservatives. But it will create a major wrinkle in Trump’s first 100 days as president, with spending bills eating up floor time that could be used for other legislation.

“It makes it a challenge,” Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) said Thursday.

“But we’re working with the incoming administration right now, and that seems to be the preference of folks, so that’s probably the wisest idea,” Price said.

GOP lawmakers will be writing ambitious, rider-packed spending bills in what Trump hopes will be the most productive period of his presidency. He’s already vowed to wade into the biggest political minefields in politics: immigration and healthcare.

Republican lawmakers now have to hammer out a massive spending package, over the objections of Senate Democrats, and get it to Trump’s desk by the end of March or face a shutdown.

That period directly overlaps with the time that the House Appropriations Committee would normally spend drafting its 12 appropriations bills for the following year.

“[The continuing resolution] is going until March 31, which is deep into our 2018 floor schedule, so it’s going to be busy,” Rogers said in a brief interview with The Hill on Thursday, repeating his preference for a larger funding package in December.

Rogers and other senior appropriations have long warned against a short-term bill, urging lawmakers to “clear the decks” for the Trump administration’s agenda in early 2017.

That path was closed off after Election Day, however. Any attempt to forge a deal with Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidBill O'Reilly: Politics helped kill Kate Steinle, Zarate just pulled the trigger Tax reform is nightmare Déjà vu for Puerto Rico Ex-Obama and Reid staffers: McConnell would pretend to be busy to avoid meeting with Obama MORE (D-Nev.) was effectively off the table after the GOP’s resounding victories at the polls.

“Obviously I would have preferred to not do a [continuing resolution] now and get it behind us. But the Trump people preferred that we do a CR, so we’ll make it work,” Rogers said.

He said his committee is quickly switching gears to complete the short-term bill after months of planning on finishing up this year’s spending process by Dec. 9.

Next year’s appropriations work is likely to be a major test for a conference that was so divided over a budget blueprint this spring that they skipped it altogether.

Fiscal hawks, led by the House Freedom Caucus, had balked at the $1.07 trillion spending levels in the bill, which were $30 billion higher than the previous year. Those figures were cemented into law last fall as part of a deal between President Obama and former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerJohn Feehery: A political forest fire Trump's pick for Federal Reserve chief is right choice at right time The two-party system is dying — let’s put it out of its misery MORE (R-Ohio.).

The budget resolution, which was drafted by Price’s committee, never made it to the floor of the House.

Approving the budget resolution would have been a symbolic gesture, because it stood no chance of being signed by President Obama. Still, it was a public relations blow to the GOP leadership, including Ryan, who made clear they wanted “regular order.”

This year, the House GOP will have to approve a budget if they want a shot with the tactic called reconciliation, which allows certain spending bills to pass the Senate with 51 votes.

Both the House and Senate will have to agree to the budget resolution in full, including the instructions on how to use reconciliation. There are several major agenda items that Republican leaders might target in reconciliation, including ObamaCare, tax reform and Medicare.

Price and others are even considering trying to take a second shot at reconciliation by bringing back this year’s budget resolution in January — an unprecedented step that would allow Republicans to get points on the board with ObamaCare repeal early in Trump’s presidency.

For the 2018 fiscal year, the budget resolution deadline is April 15 — about two weeks after the House and Senate will have to agree to the 2017 spending levels.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who sits on both the appropriations and budget committees, said finishing up the appropriations bills this year would have been far easier. It would have allowed more time for reconciliation and for the 12 spending bills.

This year’s track record is bleak: The House only passed five of the 12 appropriations bills on the floor, and the Senate passed just four.

Cole said committee staffers are already in talks with the Trump administration to dive headfirst into bills in January.

“It’ll be more complex than normal,” Cole said. “There will be a lot of anomalies.”