Right scrambles GOP budget strategy

Right scrambles GOP budget strategy
© Greg Nash

House GOP leaders’ strategy to avert a government shutdown was thrown into uncertainty Tuesday amid growing demands from conservative hard-liners and defense hawks.

While no final decisions had been made as of late Tuesday, one option gaining traction would be for lawmakers to pass a two-week continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded through Dec. 22.

Under that scenario, the House then would pass a longer-term defense spending bill before the end of the year. The measure would move in tandem with another short-term patch to fund the government through late January.

But leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who threatened to derail a procedural tax vote on Monday night to gain more leverage in the spending talks, have been pushing for an initial CR that lasts through Dec. 30, warning that lawmakers would face far greater pressure to accept a bad spending deal right before Christmas.

“We’ve had a great conversation. No deal yet,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' Gun store billboard going after the 'Squad' being removed following backlash Hurd retirement leaves GOP gloomy on 2020 MORE (R-N.C.) said as he and his conservative ally, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews CNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back MORE (R-Ohio), emerged from a meeting in the Speaker’s office.

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The Freedom Caucus will meet Wednesday morning to determine how to respond to the various options. Conservatives said the annual White House holiday party for lawmakers and their spouses prevented them from meeting Tuesday evening.

Meadows and his predecessor as Freedom Caucus chairman, Jordan, were among the key negotiators who huddled with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington Ex-Parkland students criticize Kellyanne Conway Latina leaders: 'It's a women's world more than anything' MORE (R-Wis.) in his second-floor suite on Tuesday afternoon to hash out a last-minute deal to avert a shutdown.

They were joined at the meeting by two leaders of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Chairman Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerOn The Money: House passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal | Dem court filing defends powers to get Trump's NY tax returns | Debt collectors to pay M to settle consumer bureau charges House passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal Romney to vote against budget deal: Agreement 'perpetuates fiscal recklessness' MORE (N.C.) and Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingHas Congress lost the ability or the will to pass a unanimous bipartisan small business bill? Maxine Waters is the Wall Street sheriff the people deserve Ex-GOP congressman heads to investment bank MORE (Texas), and a pair of top defense hawks, Armed Services Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryPentagon chief denies White House hand in 'war cloud' contract probe U.S. and U.K. divide increases on Iran Republican lawmakers issue dueling letters over Pentagon 'war cloud' contract MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Republicans offer support for Steve King challenger MORE (R-Wyo.).

Leadership had been prepared to forge ahead with a clean Dec. 22 CR, but then abruptly delayed a House Rules Committee vote on the two-week funding bill that was planned for Tuesday. The Rules vote, now set for Wednesday, means the House may not bring the stopgap funding bill to the floor until Thursday, just one day before current funding expires.

Rank-and-file Republicans say they have no appetite for a shutdown, and Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.) have already vowed that the government’s lights will stay on past Friday’s deadline.

Republicans have in the past had to rely on House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Pelosi hits Trump, Netanyahu for 'weakness' amid tensions over Omar and Tlaib In Hong Kong, the need for peaceful persistence MORE (D-Calif.) and the Democrats to pass stopgap funding bills. But House Republicans said Tuesday they believe they can muster the 218 votes needed to send a CR to the Senate on their own.

GOP leaders on Tuesday made the case to rank-and-file lawmakers that extending funding to Dec. 22 would give Republicans a window to pass a tax bill, then turn their focus back to spending issues.

“It takes the focus off everything else and puts it on tax reform,” said Rep. Dennis RossDennis Alan RossPro-Saudi Arabia think tank abruptly closes in Washington The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Will Iran 'break out' for a nuclear weapon, and what can Trump do? MORE (Fla.), a senior member of the GOP whip team.

Demands from defense hawks also are gumming up CR talks. Emerging from Ryan’s office on Tuesday, Thornberry reiterated they’re reluctant to back a stopgap bill unless spending caps are lifted and funding is boosted for the Pentagon through the rest of the 2018 fiscal year.

“A CR hurts the military, does damage to the military every single day,” Thornberry told reporters, “and with accidents increasing, North Korea lobbing missiles toward us, we cannot afford to continue to inflict that sort of damage to our military.

“Defense is too important to use as a political football,” he said.

Rep. Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonGOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Two killed in shooting at University of North Carolina Charlotte MORE (R-N.C.), who represents Fort Bragg, said he had lunch with Ryan and other lawmakers on Tuesday to express his concerns with how a temporary funding patch would hurt the military community.

“Most of us who understand national security know how harmful CRs are to the military,” Hudson told The Hill.

It’s unclear whether Democrats would be willing to go along with the emerging GOP plan. Their support would be crucial in the Senate, where at least eight Democratic votes would be needed to overcome a filibuster.

Democrats have traditionally insisted that any increase in defense spending above budget caps be paired with an increase in spending on domestic programs. 

“We have to have domestic priorities also,” said Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-Mo.).

But “I’m not going to draw a line in the sand until I see what it looks like,” she added.

Many Democrats and some moderate Republicans have also been demanding that any spending legislation that stretches into 2018 include a fix for former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants work permits to certain young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Trump ahead of New Hampshire speech: Lewandowski would be 'fantastic' senator MORE (D-N.Y.), who will sit down with Pelosi, Ryan, McConnell and Trump at the White House on Thursday to discuss a funding deal, batted down suggestions on Tuesday that a fight over the Obama-era immigration program will spark a government shutdown.

“We don’t think we’re going to get to that. There are good negotiations occurring between Democrats and Republicans to come up with a good DACA program, as well as some good border security,” Schumer said when asked if Democrats will support the year-end spending bill.

He added that Democrats “think we’re moving in the right direction there.”

Another complication on a funding bill is the commitment that McConnell gave to Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (R-Maine) to help win her vote for the tax-reform bill. McConnell pledged to support passage of two bipartisan ObamaCare fixes before the end of the year, which could be attached to a funding bill.

But House conservatives say they oppose the measures and see them as simply propping up ObamaCare, raising questions about whether the measures can pass the House.

In addition, Ryan’s office told a meeting of staff from the top four congressional leadership offices on Monday that the Speaker was not part of the deal between McConnell and Collins, and does not have the same commitment to pass the ObamaCare bills, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

Ryan told reporters Tuesday he was having “continued discussions with our members” about the health-care issue.

Collins told reporters Tuesday when asked about objections from House conservatives that she would have to have “absolute assurance” about the ObamaCare bills passing if the vote on the final tax bill comes before that.

“I still believe that the commitment that was given to me will be kept and I have no reason to believe that it won’t be,” she said.

Peter Sullivan and Jordain Carney contributed.