Republicans seek to lower odds of a shutdown
Stung by the defeat of their ObamaCare repeal plan, GOP leaders are doing what they can to avoid a messy spending fight with Democrats that would risk a government shutdown.
Senate Republican leaders signaled Tuesday they would set aside President Trump’s controversial request for a military supplemental bill that would include funding to begin construction of a wall along the southern border.
Speaking at a leadership press conference at the request of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said the supplemental bill would likely move “at a later time.”
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), meanwhile, sought to avoid another political landmine Tuesday by arguing that language defunding Planned Parenthood should be kept out of the spending legislation that needs to pass by April 28.
The Speaker said he wants to address defunding Planned Parenthood, long a conservative priority, through a special budgetary process that requires only 51 votes to pass the Senate.
“We think reconciliation is the tool, because that gets it in law,” Ryan told reporters, referring to the procedural track leaders tried to use to pass the failed healthcare bill. “Reconciliation is the way to go.”
The signals from the House and Senate indicate Republicans are coming to grips with the reality that they can’t pass critical legislation on their own.
Some conservatives are still insisting that Republicans plow ahead with linking the border wall and Planned Parenthood to the spending bill.
But other Republicans wary after the healthcare failure assume the Freedom Caucus will do as they did in the healthcare debate and end up opposing the funding legislation no matter what concessions are made.
Keeping the government open may be one of the few areas where Republicans can expect assistance from Democrats, who are otherwise ardently opposed to their agenda.
“I am confident they would do it to keep the government open and to keep us from defaulting on the debt. Those two issues, I see them working with us. And if we do, we’ll have Republicans in the Freedom Caucus that won’t like the fact we’re not getting much back in return,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally.
Fears of a possible government shutdown grew on Capitol Hill after conservative and centrist Republicans derailed legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare, one of Trump’s top priorities.
The legislative setback raised questions over the ability of Republican leaders to move a must-pass spending package before government funding expires.
“Yes, I am worried,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters when asked about a possible government shutdown.
Republicans fret that a shutdown only a few months into Trump’s term could raise questions about their basic ability to govern, with the ramifications felt in the 2018 midterm elections.
“Shutting down the government when it’s a Republican government and a Republican Congress is not an option,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Even Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a Freedom Caucus member and ardent foe of abortion, acknowledged attempts to defund Planned Parenthood wouldn’t overcome a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
“We’re going to have a very challenging situation there with the Senate rules,” Franks said.
The budget proposal Trump submitted to Congress this month included a supplemental request for $30 billion in emergency defense funds and $3 billion to begin construction of the border wall and tighten homeland security.
Senate Democrats warned Republican leaders in a recent letter that they will block spending legislation that includes money for the border wall, cuts nondefense domestic programs or includes “poison pill riders.”
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) predicted Republicans would get blamed for a shutdown because they control the White House and both chambers of Congress.
“We’ve given fair warning to the Republicans. If they want to play games and have a government shutdown, that’s their decision. If they want to fund the government and avoid a shutdown, they can do it easily.”
“They’re in charge; they have the majority,” he said.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) predicted Tuesday that Republicans would need Democratic help to pass the spending bill, a scenario that has played out repeatedly since the GOP won the House majority in 2010.
“They’ve always needed the help of Democrats,” Hoyer told reporters. “If the government shuts down, there is no doubt it will be because Republicans refused to come to a reasonable consensus with us.”
Blunt on Tuesday said leaders in both chambers are close to negotiating a deal on the fiscal 2017 defense spending bill, which will be used as a vehicle to carry legislation funding other federal departments.
“All of the committees, House and Senate leaderships, are working together to try to finalize the rest of the FY17 bill,” he added. “My guess is that comes together better without the supplemental.”
Despite his comments, House GOP leaders haven’t ruled out linking funds for the wall to next month’s spending fight. The House Appropriations Committee has not yet decided whether to do so.
Some House conservatives are pushing for a down payment on the wall despite the risk of a showdown with Democrats.
“That’s what I want. I want to get this wall up and going,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).
But Republican leaders want to score a legislative victory instead of picking a fight with Democrats likely to end in stalemate.
They want to pass an omnibus spending package that would set new funding formulas for the rest of 2017 instead of settling for a stopgap spending measure that would merely extend the allocations previously set for 2016.
Congress has so far passed only one regular spending bill for 2017, a measure funding military buildup and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“There’s no desire for a CR,” McConnell said, referring to a continuing resolution that would extend current funding levels.
“We fully anticipate getting an outcome prior to the end of April. We have to, actually,” he said.
Passing an omnibus spending package instead of a continuing resolution will also help GOP leaders avoid a fight with pro-defense members of their own party who want to increase defense funding.
The spending package now under negotiation includes some additional money for the Pentagon’s overseas contingency operations fund, according to a Senate aide.
“I’m not going to vote for a CR. A CR is a complete failure when it comes to the Defense Department,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Appropriations Committee.
“A CR is a cut in defense. You go back to last year’s level. We appropriated more money in this year’s 2017 appropriations bills. It’s a major cut, billions of dollars,” he added.
Graham said it makes sense to delay consideration of the supplemental spending bill.
“I don’t think we’d spend $30 billion on the Defense Department between now and September, quite frankly,” he said.