GOP senators voice misgivings about short-term spending bill

Congress is expected to pass a short-term bill to keep the government funded through the end of March, but Senate Republicans have misgivings over the strategy. 

The most vocal critic is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, but other Republicans have privately voiced concerns about setting up a messy spending fight within President-elect Trump’s first 100 days in office. 

{mosads}“Why start off the new administration fighting a battle of the previous year?” said another Senate Republican committee chairman who requested anonymity to discuss the spending strategy frankly. 

“All things being equal, I’d prefer an omnibus, because it gives you flexibility to change program funding,” the lawmaker added, explaining, however, that he would not favor a catchall funding bill that busted spending caps or included liberal policy riders.

McCain blasted congressional leaders before the Thanksgiving break as “idiots” for moving ahead.

 A senior GOP aide acknowledged there’s a difference of opinion amid the discussions over how long the funding should last in next month’s legislation but noted that deferring action until next year would give President-elect Trump an “imprint” on the spending talks. 

Trump has pledged to cut the federal deficit significantly by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” and chopping redundant government programs. 

The president-elect has also promised to get rid of caps on military spending known as the defense sequester, which President Obama and Democratic leaders oppose unless they are matched dollar-for-dollar with increases to domestic social programs. 

Senate GOP members are instructing the Appropriations Committee to begin working on a stopgap that would fund the government through March, according to a Senate aide. 

The effort shows that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is going along with the plan laid down by Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to move the short-term measure, even if the Senate GOP hasn’t completely bought in on the strategy.

McConnell, however, hadn’t publicly endorsed the truncated legislation as of Monday evening. Speaking on the floor Monday afternoon, the GOP leader told colleagues, “We’ll work to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government.”

The week after the election, McConnell told reporters in response to a question about the spending bill that congressional leaders and Trump’s transition teams were “having some conversations about a whole variety of things,” but he declined to go into detail. 

McConnell, however, has emphasized that he wants to wrap up the post-election lame duck session as quickly as possible. 

In the past, McConnell has tended to favor the strategy of clearing the decks before the start of a new Congress, as he did at the end of 2014 when he worked with Democrats to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill. It paid off when Republicans took over the majority the next month and turned their attention to other priorities, such as fast-track trade authority and the Keystone XL pipeline. 

McConnell tackled the biggest policy challenges of the 114th Congress — the Iran nuclear deal, fast-track and a multiyear highway bill — in the off year, 2015, giving colleagues a relatively light schedule for the election year. 

Some Senate Republicans are worried that their top policy priorities — confirming a Supreme Court justice, repealing ObamaCare, rolling back regulations promulgated by the Obama administration, tax reform and passing a budget — could get bogged down by a messy spending fight in March.

House conservatives in the Freedom Caucus in September called for a medium-term funding resolution that would keep the government operating only until March to deprive Obama of the chance to negotiate an omnibus. 

Ryan has gone further than McConnell by publicly acknowledging Trump’s preference. 

“The new, incoming government would like to have a say-so in how spending is allocated,” he told reporters recently.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said his panel would move the short-term funding measure out of “deference to the Trump administration.”

His counterpart, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel, however, has signaled that freezing defense spending levels for another 3.5 months is a potential concern.

“Chairman Cochran remains interested in ensuring national defense and other priorities are funded in a stable, fiscally sound manner,” a Senate GOP aide said.

The last time Congress passed a short-term funding measure that set up springtime spending negotiations was in 2010 after Republicans captured the House in a Tea Party-powered wave. The move led to an impasse over spending cuts and Planned Parenthood the following April as lawmakers came within hours of a government shutdown.

Senate Democrats on Monday declined to say whether they would support a bill funding the government through March, even if it doesn’t include controversial policy riders.

They say the bill should not increase defense spending without also boosting non-defense domestic programs. 

“Let’s see what it looks like first,” said a senior Democratic aide. “Our preference is for a yearlong omnibus.”

Tags John McCain Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Thad Cochran
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