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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 MeadowsFive takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Live coverage: Heitkamp faces Cramer in high-stakes North Dakota debate Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure MORE (R-N.C.) said as he and his conservative ally, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanMeadows calls on Rosenstein to resign 'immediately' Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel House Judiciary chairman threatens to subpoena Rosenstein 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 RyanThe Memo: Saudi storm darkens for Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns 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 WalkerDisasters become big chunk of U.S. deficit GOP lawmaker reports 'threatening' Twitter messages to police US and Canada working furiously to come to NAFTA agreement MORE (N.C.) and Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingOn The Money: Watt's accuser describes sexual harassment claims in stunning testimony | SEC sues Elon Musk for fraud | Mnuchin says GOP hasn’t lost messaging war on taxes Mel Watt's accuser describes sexual harassment claims in stunning testimony House panel invites Watt accuser to testify at Thursday hearing MORE (Texas), and a pair of top defense hawks, Armed Services Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryThe Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — Trump knocks NY Times tax story as 'hit piece' | FBI faces pressure over Kavanaugh | Collins calls Trump remarks on Ford 'plan wrong' Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump signs bill funding Pentagon, averting shutdown | F-35 price drops below M | Iran threatens US bases Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump caps UN visit with wild presser | Accuses China of election meddling | Pentagon spending bill clears House | Hawks cheer bill | Lawmakers introduce resolution to force Yemen vote MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyTrump administration could use military bases to export coal, gas Liz Cheney: Fighting past wrongs not first duty of elected officials, particularly women Republican office in Wyoming catches fire: report 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 McConnellOvernight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump says GOP will support pre-existing condition protections | McConnell defends ObamaCare lawsuit | Dems raise new questions for HHS on child separations Poll finds Dems prioritize health care, GOP picks lower taxes when it's time to vote The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPelosi meets with Parkland students and parents, says gun control would be atop Dems’ agenda The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Election Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage 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 RossGOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Reshaping US aid to the Palestinians Trump allies want Congress to find anonymous op-ed author 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 HudsonNorth Carolina GOP leader shares fake photo mocking Ford Trump calls North Carolina redistricting ruling ‘unfair’ The Hill's Morning Report: Trump shifts campaign focus from Senate to House 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 McCaskillMcCaskill campaign says ‘intern’ who filmed campaign had access to voter data McConnell defends Trump-backed lawsuit against ObamaCare McCaskill calls on GOP opponent to appoint special prosecutor to look into undercover video 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 SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Susan Collins and the mob mentality Graham: I hope Dems 'get their ass kicked' for conduct around Kavanaugh 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.