House

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 Dent (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 Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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 Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), told The Hill. “I don’t like that” but all other options “are preferable to a government shutdown.” 

Rep. Hal Rogers (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 Ryan (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 Cole (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 DeLauro (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 Flores (R-Texas) called it a “bad idea,” while Rogers said he “hopes” it doesn’t come to that.

And Rep. Thomas Massie (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 Jordan (R-Ohio). “No good deal happens right before Christmas.”

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (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 Mulvaney, the White House budget director, to discuss spending and debt issues.

Tags Bill Flores Charles Schumer Charlie Dent Chuck Fleischmann Hal Rogers Jim Jordan Mark Meadows Mick Mulvaney Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan Rosa DeLauro Thomas Massie Tom Cole

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