Dem retreat crunches window for spending vote

Greg Nash
The Democrats’ annual retreat is the latest issue complicating the congressional effort to fund the government and prevent another shutdown this month.
House Democrats are scheduled to head to Cambridge, Md., for their three-day conference next Wednesday, a day ahead of the Feb. 8 deadline for Congress to pass another spending bill to keep the government running. And Democratic leaders are charging ahead with that plan, indicating they expect the House to vote on a budget bill on Tuesday or early Wednesday, at the latest.
“We are still planning on going on our retreat,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, said this week.
Hoyer and the Democrats are quick to emphasize that they’ll stay in Washington as long as it takes to seal a deal, even if it means scrapping their Cambridge plans. But noting that GOP leaders canceled Wednesday’s floor session this week to accommodate the Republicans’ annual conference, the Democrats are pressing for similar consideration.
“They’re in charge of the schedule; they were in charge of giving us the dates for the retreat. … We don’t control any of that,” Hoyer said Tuesday
“I would hope that they would take actions to make sure that the Democrats will not be disadvantaged in going to our conference. We have speakers scheduled and cost incurred,” he said. “But if we need to stay here WednesdayThursday and Friday to make sure government is open and operating, we will be here.” 
GOP leaders say they’re still mulling next week’s strategy for moving another short-term spending bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), through the lower chamber. But they haven’t announced the duration of the next CR or when it might hit the floor. 
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday blamed Democrats for Congress’s continued reliance on short-term spending patches, accusing leaders across the aisle of holding a longer-term deal on spending caps “hostage” to their insistence that an agreement on immigration be finalized beforehand.
“If we would have had our cap agreement in place by now, we would not be having to do these CRs,” Ryan said during a press briefing amid the Republican retreat at The Greenbriar resort in White Sulfur Springs, W.Va.
Ryan said the sides are “making progress on a cap agreement,” but acknowledged the need to pass yet another CR — the fifth since last September — to prevent a shutdown on Feb. 9
“Even if we get everything figured out by, say, Tuesday, we still have to have a CR, if only for the fact that we have to give the appropriators time to write an omnibus appropriations bill,” he said. “We’re still negotiating the contents and the duration of that.”
Ryan’s office declined to comment on the timing of the CR vote. But Democrats say they’re hearing from the Republicans that the vote will likely come in time to salvage the Cambridge trip.
“They plan on having the vote on Tuesday,” said Lauren French, spokeswoman for Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Complicating the effort for GOP leaders, a number of conservative Republicans are threatening to oppose another CR without a firm commitment on both Pentagon spending hikes and an immigration deal that’s enforcement-centered enough to win their support. 
If enough Republicans defect, Ryan would be forced to reach across the aisle for help from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has threatened to withhold her support without a vote to protect the so-called Dreamers, young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Furthermore, a House-passed CR would still have to go to the Senate, where an impasse led to the last shutdown, on Jan. 19. 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted Thursday that the Democrats wouldn’t risk the political fallout of another shutdown after they were largely blamed the last time around.
“One tool has clearly been eliminated. I don’t think we’ll see a threatened government shutdown again over this subject,” McConnell said from The Greenbriar. “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.”
Still, House Democrats say they’re ready to return from Cambridge to the Capitol in the event of another shutdown, or if the Senate alters a House-passed bill, thereby requiring another vote in the lower chamber.
“If there’s a vote that needs to happen, we will be coming back,” French said. “The work of Congress supersedes this [conference].”
Tags Dem retreat democratic caucus Democrats government funding Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan Retreat Steny Hoyer
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