House GOP leaders scramble for budget votes

Greg Nash

House GOP leaders pleaded at a press conference Thursday for their members to back a sweeping budget deal that has come under fire from conservatives, as leadership races to lock down enough votes to avoid a government shutdown by Thursday’s midnight deadline.

Rep. Martha McSally (R), the Arizona combat veteran running for the Senate, urged the conference to back the bill for its boost in military spending. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) called on the conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose members have criticized the budget for adding to the deficit, to stay on the GOP team and support the bipartisan package.

“We need to stay unified, we need to get this budget passed,” Cheney said. “We cannot be in a situation where we are letting our political debates, our political fights, our arguments, get in the way of getting [the military] the resources they need in this increasingly dangerous world to protect and defend every one of us.”

{mosads}Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who needs to reach across the aisle for some Democratic votes, also reiterated his pledge to address immigration, saying “do not” doubt his commitment to fixing the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Trump is ending in March.

The messages come as conservatives have revolted against the massive budget package over fiscal concerns, while some Democrats are still on the fence about whether to support the deal without a clear path forward on DACA.

The proposal, announced on Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), sets the stage for $300 billion more in federal spending over the next two years while raising the debt ceiling for one year. It keeps the government temporarily funded until March 23, which will give lawmakers time to write an omnibus spending bill to fund the government for the rest of the year.

The deal also includes a number of other priorities for both parties, including money for disaster relief, the opioid crisis, the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers.

The bipartisan deal is expected to easily pass the Senate on Thursday. But the deal’s backers could face a tougher lift after it reaches the House.

The House Freedom Caucus, a band of roughly 30 conservative hard-liners, slammed the proposal as fiscally irresponsible and took an official position against the package.

That means Ryan and his leadership team will need to rely on at least dozens of Democratic votes to help get the spending deal through the lower chamber to avert a government shutdown.

And GOP leaders will need even more Democrats if they face further defections in their own party, making it essential to corral support from defense hawks who are still torn over a package that adds to the deficit but provides a long-sought-after boost for the U.S. military.

“Our government has no higher responsibility than to support our men and women who are in harm’s way,” Ryan said, kicking off his press conference flanked by defense hawks in Congress.

“For months now, we have been working to get our military the resources it needs to keep the peace. This budget agreement delivers on that commitment.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), former chairman of the Freedom Caucus, predicted that “there are going to be more no’s” than expected after he spoke to both Democrats and Republicans on the House floor Thursday morning.

Jordan pointed to members of the moderate Tuesday Group and the Texas delegation, which would be surprising given that the more than $80 billion in disaster aid would go toward hurricane-ravaged regions like Texas.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), a member of the GOP whip team, told The Hill that he thinks leaders were “still growing the vote” as of Thursday morning.

Ryan and his top lieutenants have so far sounded confident that they will ultimately clinch enough support for the measure, though they have declined to say how many Democratic votes they will need.

“I think we will,” Ryan told radio show host Hugh Hewitt when pressed on whether he will have the votes. “I feel good. Part of it depends on the Democrats. This is a bipartisan bill. It’s going to need bipartisan support.”

It’s unclear how many Democrats will vote against the legislation without concessions on immigration. A total of 45 Democrats backed the last continuing resolution to reopen the government.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was intimately involved in the high-level budget caps negotiation, is vowing to oppose the deal unless she gets a firm commitment to consider legislation in the House to protect young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, popularly known as “Dreamers.”

Democratic leaders sent out a whip notice Thursday afternoon to gauge how many lawmakers support the budget plan. The notice also urged them to oppose the package because the deal “fails to provide a path forward on protecting DREAMers.”

But Pelosi said at a press conference earlier in the day that she won’t be pushing rank-and-file Democrats to join her in voting against it, giving her members some room to support the deal.

The House Democratic Caucus will huddle late Thursday afternoon amid the mixed messaging.
Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and John Garamendi (Calif.) have both signaled that they will likely support the agreement.
And Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) officially announced he would support the bill on Thursday afternoon.
“If Democrats cannot support this kind of compromise, Congress will never function,” Yarmuth said in a statement.
Updated: 3:28 p.m.
Tags Charles Schumer Donald Trump Frank Lucas Jim Jordan John Garamendi John Yarmuth Liz Cheney Martha McSally Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan
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