GOP to play hardball with Dems on funding bill

Greg Nash

House Republicans are moving to pair a full year of defense spending with a short-term measure to avoid a government shutdown on Friday, effectively daring Democrats in the Senate to block it.

Democrats have demanded that any increase in defense spending be matched with increases to nondefense spending. They also want to reach an immigration deal before they agree to a broader deal on lifting the budget spending caps.


But House GOP leadership’s decision puts Senate Democrats in an unenviable position.

Following last month’s government shutdown, House Republicans are betting that Minority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and his fellow Democrats in the Senate won’t have the nerve to force another closure by blocking the bill.

Senate Republicans need at least nine Democratic votes to beat back a Democratic-led filibuster.

Schumer declared the House GOP measure dead on arrival in a floor speech.

“Sending a cromnibus to the Senate, one that just funded defense and cut programs crucial to the middle class, would be barreling head-first into a dead-end,” Schumer said, referring to a cross between an omnibus spending bill and short-term continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other GOP leaders will pitch the plan at an emergency GOP conference meeting Monday night, GOP sources told The Hill. 

Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the Republican whip, said the House will vote on the package on Tuesday.

“[We’ll] attach the [Defense Department] appropriations bill, as well as community health center funding, to the CR and send it over to the Senate tomorrow,” Scalise told The Hill. “We’ve passed a number of defense appropriations bills, and the Senate has yet to take action on any of them. So it’s about time that they confront the importance of funding our national defense.”

Scalise said the CR will not include language to raise the debt ceiling, which is being negotiated as part of the broader talks to lift spending caps.

“That’s all being discussed in the context of the cap negotiations, which are separate,” he said.

Pairing the defense funding with what’s expected to be a six-week continuing resolution would appease defense hawks and conservative hard-liners in the House GOP conference, allowing Ryan and his team to pass a government funding bill with Republican votes.

“We need to take care of our defense guys,” said one GOP source familiar with leadership’s plan.

A Ryan spokeswoman declined to comment before a plan was presented to rank-and-file members.

In addition to defense, the bill would include funding for community health centers as well as a package of expiring Medicare programs that need to be extended.

The defense portion of the larger funding package would largely mirror a bill the House passed last week. That bill funded the Pentagon at higher levels — $659.2 billion for the entire 2018 fiscal year — but was ignored by the Senate.

It was approved on a 250-166 mostly party-line vote, with four Republicans voting “no” and 23 Democrats voting “yes.”

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus said they plan to meet later Monday night to discuss leadership’s funding proposal. But Freedom Caucus leaders have said they would back the plan if it included full funding for the Pentagon.

“We haven’t taken an official position,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a former Freedom Caucus chairman. “Our group is going to say either full defense funding or we’re not for it.”

Schumer accused Ryan of bowing to his right flank.

“Speaker Ryan needs to do what’s best for the country and work in a bipartisan way to fund the government, even if not every faction of his caucus will go along,” he said.
“If he lets the Freedom Caucus be the tail that wags the dog, there’s no way we’ll reach an agreement that can pass the Senate,” Schumer said. “And it would jeopardize the positive discussions going on right now about the budget, immigration, disaster aid and more.”

House Republican leaders are not expected to include legislation raising the debt ceiling in the CR, according to multiple sources.

Some conservative lawmakers had recently been discussing the idea of attaching debt ceiling language to the next short-term funding bill, as long as it was paired with spending reforms.

A new Treasury Department report released last week warned that Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling earlier than expected, sometime in early March, which has stepped up urgency on Capitol Hill to address the issue.

But the debt ceiling could get resolved as part of an omnibus spending bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal 2018 year.

Last updated at 8:18 p.m. Melanie Zanona and Mike Lillis contributed.

Tags Continuing resolution House Jim Jordan Paul Ryan Shutdown Steve Scalise

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