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. 

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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 DentThe biggest political upsets of the decade Ex-GOP lawmaker: Former colleagues privately say they're 'disgusted and exhausted' by Trump Overnight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Federal judge blocks Trump from detaining migrant children indefinitely | Health officials tie vaping-related illnesses to 'Dank Vapes' brand | Trump to deliver health care speech in Florida 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 PelosiMalaysia says it will choose 5G partners based on own standards, not US recommendations Pelosi warns allies against using Huawei Budget hawks frustrated by 2020 politics in entitlement reform fight MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBarr to testify before House Judiciary panel Graham won't call Barr to testify over Roger Stone sentencing recommendation Roger Stone witness alleges Trump targeted prosecutors in 'vile smear job' 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.

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“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 FleischmannLobbying world Trump roasts Republicans at private fundraising event Trump faces new hit on deficit 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 RogersBottom line Appropriators face crucial weekend to reach deal Trump says he'll decide on foreign aid cuts within a week 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 says Biden likely won't get Democratic nomination Judd Gregg: Honey, I Shrunk The Party The Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power 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 ColeTrump's best week ever? McCarthy raises over million in Q4 for House GOP GOP leader warns lawmakers on fundraising: 'Getting our ass kicked' 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 DeLauroOn The Money: Deficit spikes 25 percent through January | Mnuchin declines to say why Trump pulled Treasury nominee who oversaw Roger Stone case | Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts USDA takes heat as Democrats seek probe into trade aid 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 FloresDemocrats push to end confidentiality for oil companies that don't add ethanol The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren, Sanders overtake Biden in third-quarter fundraising The Hill's Morning Report — Trump broadens call for Biden probes MORE (R-Texas) called it a “bad idea,” while Rogers said he “hopes” it doesn’t come to that.

And Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieGOP climate plan faces pushback — from Republicans Overnight Defense: House passes bills to rein in Trump on Iran | Pentagon seeks Iraq's permission to deploy missile defenses | Roberts refuses to read Paul question on whistleblower during impeachment trial Here are the lawmakers who defected on Iran legislation 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 JordanTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium Ex-Ohio State wrestler claims Jim Jordan asked him to deny abuse allegations MORE (R-Ohio). “No good deal happens right before Christmas.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsLawmakers grill Census Bureau officials after report on cybersecurity issues Conservative lawmakers warn Pelosi about 'rate-setting' surprise billing fix House GOP leader says reassignment of Vindman was appropriate 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.

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“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 MulvaneyTrump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request Scaramucci thanks John Kelly for speaking up against Trump Trump lashes out over Kelly criticism: 'He misses the action' MORE, the White House budget director, to discuss spending and debt issues.