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House rolls the dice in spending bill fight

House GOP leaders are pushing ahead with a risky strategy to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week: passing a bill that they know is dead on arrival in the Senate.

The current plan for the House is to put a bill on the floor later this week that links a full year of funding for defense with a stopgap measure that funds domestic programs until Jan. 19.

But Republicans know the legislation will likely fail in the upper chamber, meaning the House may end up having to pass a clean continuing resolution (CR) with the help of Democrats — something that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP GOP group makes late play in Iowa seat once seen as lost Adelsons donated M in September to help GOP in midterms MORE (R-Wis.) had sought to avoid, and a move that would almost certainly generate blowback from House conservatives.

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“If the Senate sends back a clean CR, you’d lose some Republican votes. You presumably would get some Democratic votes,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeGOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters Both sides digging in for post-midterm shutdown fight Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills MORE (R-Okla.), the chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee. “But you’re not going to be able to make that call until we go through the motions.”

 

Further raising the stakes is that Republicans are focusing their energy on passing a historic overhaul of the tax code in the next few days, meaning they will have little time to avert a shutdown on Friday at midnight. 

Republican leaders are facing the Dec. 22 cutoff point after passing a two-week extension of funding earlier this month. They are adamant that they will not allow the government to close. 

Defense hawks and conservative members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus had threatened to derail the previous two-week CR unless they got a commitment from leadership to boost money for defense before the end of the year. They worry that another CR would be harmful to the military. 

To lock up the necessary Republican votes for the last stopgap measure, House GOP leadership promised to push for a spending package that would fund defense at higher levels through September. The bill headed to the floor does exactly that. 

The House Rules Committee is slated to meet Tuesday afternoon to prepare the defense–CR package for a floor vote, which could occur as soon as Wednesday. 

To sweeten the pot, leaders included funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which expired in September. They could also attach an $81 billion disaster aid bill for hurricane-ravaged regions in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The relief package was initially expected to be unveiled Friday, but was delayed to iron out last-minute concerns.

However, even with CHIP and disaster aid, lawmakers acknowledge that the defense-first strategy is unlikely to fly in the Senate, where eight Democratic votes would be needed to overcome a filibuster. 

Forty-four Democrats signed onto a letter vowing to oppose a combination CR–defense omnibus that includes a full year of military spending, citing concerns with prioritizing defense over nondefense programs. 

The Senate may also try to attach a pair of bipartisan ObamaCare fixes to the CR that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: I hope Dems 'get their ass kicked' for conduct around Kavanaugh Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Overnight Defense: Trump worries Saudi Arabia treated as 'guilty until proven innocent' | McConnell opens door to sanctions | Joint Chiefs chair to meet Saudi counterpart | Mattis says Trump backs him '100 percent' MORE (R-Ky.) promised Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham: I hope Dems 'get their ass kicked' for conduct around Kavanaugh St. Lawrence alumni, faculty want honorary degree for Collins revoked 'Suspicious letter' mailed to Maine home of Susan Collins MORE (R-Maine) in exchange for her vote on tax reform. House conservatives have flatly rejected that idea. 

“It’s not all worked out. As usual, it all hinges on the Senate,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Thursday. “They goofed up health care. We’ve had 12 appropriations bills over there for 90 days and now they’re not ready to go on this. We’re just waiting on, what are they going to do?” 

Lawmakers say the Senate will either strip out the defense piece from the bill or offer their own four-week CR as an amendment and send it back to the House, where Ryan would likely need the help of Democrats to pass it.

Democrats have backed off their demands to include protections in the stopgap bill for young immigrants brought illegally to the country as children, but have been insistent that they will not back an increase for defense without a boost for nondefense programs as well. 

Republicans have in the past had to rely on House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiElection Countdown: Dems outraise GOP in final stretch | 2018 midterms already most expensive in history | What to watch in second Cruz-O'Rourke debate | Trump raises 0M for reelection | Why Dems fear Avenatti's approach GOP strategist says Trump could want border wall fight to continue to excite base McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' MORE (D-Calif.) and the Democrats to pass stopgap funding bills. However, House leaders were able to muster enough GOP votes to send the last CR to the Senate on their own. 

If the House ends up passing a stopgap bill with Democrats this week, it could spark a revolt from conservatives, who already worry that Ryan may cut an unpopular deal with Democrats on other contentious issues like immigration and the debt ceiling next year. 

House conservatives want leadership to just jam the Senate with the defense–CR package, daring Democrats to vote against military spending, disaster aid and children’s health insurance. 

But Ryan and other GOP leaders are especially eager to avoid a shutdown right after passage of the tax bill, which would threaten to overshadow their first big legislative achievement under President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE

“I believe we will pass the CR that will fund the government into January,” Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentMidterms put GOP centrists in peril House GOP group cuts financial support for Coffman, Bishop GOP House candidate placed on leave from longtime position after sexual misconduct allegation MORE (R-Pa.), also the chairman of an Appropriations subcommittee, told CNN on Monday. “Bottom line is, there will not be a government shutdown.”

“But accidents could happen,” he added.