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 DentPennsylvania New Members 2019 Dem wins leave behind a more conservative GOP conference How Republicans who voted against ObamaCare repeal fared in midterms 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPoll: 40 percent of Democrats want Speaker other than Pelosi Democrats with military background offer support for Pelosi House Democrat agenda, led by minimum wage, threatens economic prosperity MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFacebook reeling after damning NYT report Schumer warns Trump to stay out of government funding negotiations Schumer predicts Nelson will 'continue being senator' if 'every vote counted' 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 FleischmannDems best GOP as Scalise returns for annual charity baseball game Sadly, fiscal restraint is no longer a core principle of the GOP GOP could punt funding fight to January 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 RogersOn 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' GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Tensions mount for House Republicans 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 RyanPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism On The Money: Senate banking panel showcases 2020 Dems | Koch groups urge Congress not to renew tax breaks | Dow down nearly 400 | Cuomo defends Amazon HQ2 deal Koch groups: Congress shouldn't renew expired tax breaks 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 ColeDemocratic gains erasing House GOP in California House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses Race for Appropriations ranking member heats up 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 DeLauroOvernight Health Care: Top Trump refugee official taking new HHS job | Tom Price joins new Georgia governor's transition | FDA tobacco crackdown draws ire from the right Trump's top refugee official takes new job at HHS Lawmakers say California will eventually get emergency funding for fire relief 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 FloresRep. Mike Johnson wins race for RSC chairman GOP approves rule for Don Young Texas lawmaker: GOP facing funding disadvantage MORE (R-Texas) called it a “bad idea,” while Rogers said he “hopes” it doesn’t come to that.

And Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieThe real winner of the 2018 midterms: individual liberty How Republicans who voted against ObamaCare repeal fared in midterms Trump deals with Saudis may be worth much less than 0 billion 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. Mike Johnson wins race for RSC chairman Election Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP Heads up, GOP: Elections have consequences MORE (R-Ohio). “No good deal happens right before Christmas.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsPence aide defends Meadows after ethics panel reprimand: He ‘had my back’ Ethics panel reprimands Freedom Caucus chairman over handling of harassment allegations McCarthy, other Republicans back Ratcliffe to be next attorney general 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: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report Mulvaney positioning himself to be Commerce Secretary: report Top House Budget Dem predicts a 'nonconfrontational' committee under Dem leadership MORE, the White House budget director, to discuss spending and debt issues.