GOP could punt funding fight to January

GOP could punt funding fight to January
© Greg Nash

Chatter among Republicans grew louder Wednesday that Congress may punt its government-funding fight into January rather than tackle a massive, trillion-dollar omnibus package right before the holidays.

With lawmakers scrambling to avert a government shutdown on Dec. 8, GOP leadership has been weighing the length of a continuing resolution, or CR, to keep the government’s lights on while they hash out a broader fiscal 2018 spending deal.

The lawmakers in charge of writing the spending bills prefer a one- to two-week CR, which they think will give them their best shot at finishing their 2018 omnibus package before Christmas. 

But there is a growing consensus on Capitol Hill that there’s just not enough time left to do it. There are just 11 legislative days left in 2017 and Republicans have a long to-do list, including passing a major tax overhaul.

“We need a CR. The question is, how long? If we don’t get the top-line agreement soon, inevitably it will push this beyond Christmas, which I’m not happy about,” Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentCNN celebrates correspondents' weekend with New Orleans-themed brunch The Hill's Morning Report - Government is funded, but for how long? Ex-GOP lawmaker says his party is having a 'Monty Python' moment on shutdown MORE (R-Pa.), a senior appropriator and chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, told reporters Wednesday. “Nobody likes doing a CR, but the alternative is a shutdown. 

“If the alternative is a shutdown,” Dent added, “Then, yes, of course I’ll support a CR into January.”

Dent said he had been optimistic earlier this week that GOP and Democratic leaders would be able to soon reach a budget deal on top-line spending numbers, which Appropriation Committee “cardinals” like himself need to begin crafting spending bills.

But Dent now fears that Trump’s tweet declaring “I don’t see a deal!” with Democrats could push fiscal 2018 spending talks well past the holidays.

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi hits Trump on health care: His 'cruel hypocrisy knows no bounds' Pelosi hits Trump on health care: His 'cruel hypocrisy knows no bounds' On The Money: DOJ offers legal opinion backing refusal to release Trump tax returns | Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage | Trump bashes Powell ahead of crucial Fed meeting | Design leaks for Harriet Tubman bill MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerUS women's soccer team reignites equal pay push Blue Dogs look to move forward on infrastructure project Democratic strategist says Republicans are turning immigration debate into 'political football' MORE (D-N.Y.) abruptly pulled out of a meeting at the White House shortly after Trump’s Tuesday morning tweet — a blow up which set negotiations back a full week and could derail efforts to get an omnibus package over the finish line this year.

“Without a [top-line] number, I think we end up in a situation where we get some sort of a short-term CR,” another appropriator, Rep. Chuck FleischmannCharles (Chuck) Joseph FleischmannDemocrats set stage for next shutdown fight with wall-free spending bill Dems advance homeland security bill with no money for Trump's wall Dems advance homeland security bill with no money for Trump's wall MORE (R-Tenn.), told The Hill. “I don’t like that” but all other options “are preferable to a government shutdown.” 

Rep. Hal RogersHarold (Hal) Dallas RogersEnding AIDS requires US investment Momentum for earmarks grows with Dem majority On The Money: GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat | Trump warns Japan ties could sour over trade | US businesses add 163k workers in August | House GOP huddles on 'tax cut 2.0' MORE (R-Ky.), a former Appropriations chairman, told reporters that there are all “sorts of possibilities being talked about” right now, including a January CR.

In a meeting with rank-and-file Republicans on Wednesday morning, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanIndiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Inside Biden's preparations for first debate MORE (R-Wis.) walked members through several ways the spending process could play out in the coming weeks.

One of those options was a CR that carried government funding into January, sources in the meeting said. 

But Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeEx-GOP lawmaker says Trump 'illegitimate president,' should be impeached Ex-GOP lawmaker pens op-ed calling for Trump to be impeached House panel approves language revoking 2001 war authority as Iran tensions spike MORE (R-Okla.), an Appropriations cardinal like Dent, said GOP leadership wasn’t quite ready to concede that a January CR would be the best path forward.

“They’re not there yet,” Cole told reporters Wednesday. “Until yesterday morning, everybody expected yesterday’s afternoon meeting to happen. So I don’t think they’re in a position right now for a definitive judgment on that.”

“The desire is still to get the work done this year,” he added.

Other issues are threatening to complicate negotiations. Many Democrats and at least one Republican have vowed to oppose any spending legislation that doesn’t include a fix for former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

But the GOP likely doesn’t need Democratic support in the House for a short-term CR, while Senate Democrats would risk being blamed for a shutdown if they blocked it.

Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroTrump admin ending legal aid, English classes for migrant children in US shelters Brazilian firm draws scrutiny on Trump farm aid Watchdog: DeVos used personal emails for work in 'limited' cases MORE (D-Conn.), an appropriator, declined to say Wednesday whether she would support a January CR.

“We’ll wait to see what we’ve got,” she said. 

A number of Republicans expressed uneasiness with that idea later Wednesday, though most stopped short of vowing to block a January CR.

Former Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresOvernight Energy: GOP lawmaker parodies Green New Deal in new bill | House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill | Park Service chief grilled over shutdown House Republicans accuse Dems of ramming through climate bill Seven Republicans vote against naming post office after ex-Rep. Louise Slaughter MORE (R-Texas) called it a “bad idea,” while Rogers said he “hopes” it doesn’t come to that.

And Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieHouse conservative's procedural protest met with bipartisan gripes House conservative's procedural protest met with bipartisan gripes Trump signs long-awaited .1B disaster aid bill MORE (R-Ky.), who typically aligns with the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he would oppose a spending bill that continues funding into January, though he noted he would probably be a “no” on any CR or the omnibus.

But some members of the Freedom Caucus worry that if the extension only lasts through 2017, lawmakers will be more inclined to swallow a bad deal just so they can skip town before Christmas. The far-right group fears Republican leaders will include a DACA fix in the omnibus.

The thinking is that conservatives will have more leverage if they kick negotiations into January.

“If there is going to be a CR, it shouldn’t land right before Christmas. It should land in January,” said one top conservative leader, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanRep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump House panel advances bill to create cybersecurity standards for government IT devices MORE (R-Ohio). “No good deal happens right before Christmas.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsRep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump Rep. Amash stokes talk of campaign against Trump House Oversight votes to hold Barr, Ross in contempt MORE (R-N.C.) emphasized that his group has not taken a formal position on a CR. But he and other conservatives have personally been making the case to the White House that funding the government through the holiday recess, until perhaps Jan. 15, would be preferable to a bipartisan year-end spending deal that jams conservatives.

“The case has been made to the administration that a four- to five-week CR — with the ability to fund the anomalies for our military — would certainly be a welcome decision by many conservatives,” Meadows told reporters just off the House floor.

Meadows also argued that Congress should vote to raise the debt ceiling as part of any December funding package rather than wait until the U.S. reaches its borrowing limit sometime in January.

“At this point, if it’s coming due in January, why not include it in an end-of-the-year spending deal? Having another fiscal cliff weeks after the last one would not be prudent,” Meadows said before heading off to call Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill New poll finds little GOP support for spending cuts to specific federal programs MORE, the White House budget director, to discuss spending and debt issues.