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 RyanThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti rips Sanders for 'inability to actually fight with bad actors' in party 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 ColeDemocrats don't expect to do 2020 budget The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment face-off; Dems go after Buttigieg in debate Trump shocks, earns GOP rebukes with Dingell remarks 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 McConnellFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Bolton book alleges Trump tied Ukraine aid freeze to Biden investigations: NYT MORE (R-Ky.) promised Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Impeachment manager dismisses concerns Schiff alienated key Republican votes: 'This isn't about any one person' Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court 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 PelosiFormer senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Democrats step up pressure over witnesses after Bolton bombshell Texas AFL-CIO endorses Cuellar's primary challenger 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 TrumpTrump denies telling Bolton Ukraine aid was tied to investigations Former senior Senate GOP aide says Republicans should call witnesses Title, release date revealed for Bolton memoir MORE

“I believe we will pass the CR that will fund the government into January,” 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.), 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.