House GOP talks 'minibuses,' moves toward Senate in spending fight

House GOP talks 'minibuses,' moves toward Senate in spending fight
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

House Republican leaders are embracing the Senate’s proposal of a government funding bill that would run through Dec. 9 despite opposition from conservatives who want a longer measure to avoid a lame-duck session of Congress.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE (R-Wis.) at a closed-door House GOP meeting on Friday sought to win members over by saying that he wanted to avoid a lame-duck omnibus bill after the elections.

An omnibus wraps up the various appropriations measures for the government into one huge bill, which many members argue can be approved without enough scrutiny. Conservatives in the House have repeatedly criticized the idea of doing an omnibus. 

Ryan laid out the pros and cons of a three-month or six-month funding bill that could be approved in September without explicitly endorsing one or the other.

But approving a short-term bill this month would give Congress more time to approve a series of "minibuses," or smaller groupings of appropriations measure, in the lame-duck.

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Passing the short-term bill would put the House GOP in lockstep with the Senate, which hopes to approve a funding bill through Dec. 9 as early as next week.

With their majority under serious threat from Democrats, GOP senators are in a rush to get back to their home states to campaign.

The House is scheduled to remain in session through the end of September, and while Republicans are also worried about losing seats, they see little threat of losing their majority.

While members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have repeatedly called for a longer-term funding bill, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), after the closed-door meeting, said the idea of a short-term bill received a “good reception” among members.

“There was a realization within the conference that an omnibus is likely out of the question,” he said. “ 'Omnibus’ is a very unpopular word.”

He described the minibuses as “bite-sized” packages of spending bills that members would be able to “digest and look at carefully.”

Conservatives sounded more skeptical of the plans after the meeting, with some raising questions about whether an omnibus could really be avoided. 

Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) said some Republicans questioned whether their party would really have an advantage in December in a post-election spending fight.

“And it was crickets,” he said.

Brat and other conservatives have warned that in a lame-duck session, lawmakers might be more likely to approve a budget-busting spending bill.

They have argued that funding the government into next year could give more leverage to GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE if he wins the presidential election.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidGOP embraces big stimulus after years of decrying it Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate Winners and losers from Super Tuesday MORE (Nev.), however, has warned that Democrats would not agree to a funding bill that runs into next year.

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said he saw “some” resistance from members who prefer a spending bill that would run through March.

But he said the majority of people who spoke supported a shorter-term bill because it would preserve defense spending at current levels.

Some members of the Freedom Caucus said they would only back a three-month package if it included a “pause” on Syrian refugees entering the country, according to Rep. Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonArizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around Former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain in Senate Arizona governor faces pressure over McCain replacement MORE (R-Ariz.). 

But other Republicans predicted any effort to curtail the flow of Syrian refugees won't survive in a final package.

“Some of them said they can [support a short-term funding measure] if the Syrian refugee language is in there,” Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.). “I think it would be tough to get.”

Other Republicans dismissed the Freedom Caucus’s arguments, noting that many of those members were unlikely to support a short-term spending bill no matter what.

“They make demands about what should be in the bills knowing damn well they’re not going to vote for the bills,” said centrist Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.

The hourlong meeting was the first extended chance for House Republicans to discuss this month’s government spending deadline, as well as the long-stalled effort to fund the fight against the Zika virus.

Lawmakers said the Zika package came up just once in the meeting. Most members said at least some money is expected to be part of this month’s government spending bill. But few would acknowledge publicly that they would likely have to scrap the controversial provisions targeting Planned Parenthood to get the bill past Senate Democrats.

Rep. Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way House Democrats urge Trump to end deportations of Iraqis after diabetic man's death House Appropriations passes defense bill that would limit funds for border wall, pull US support from Yemen war MORE (R-Neb.), who is strongly anti-abortion, said the House needed to stick to its “responsible language” and argued that Democrats have exaggerated the bill’s impact.

Echoing Ryan earlier this week, he argued that the House bill doesn't mention Planned Parenthood by name and merely limits funding to health providers that are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid payments.

But other Republicans, particularly from Florida — ground zero for Zika's spread into the mainland U.S. —  say they know the GOP will have to back down on the Planned Parenthood language to pass funding combating the virus.

“I think at the end of the day, it's not rocket science what's going to happen here. By the end of September, you're going to have some kind of package that the House and Senate are going to have to compromise on,” Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) said.

If Congress can’t pass Zika funding by the end of this month, Jolly said, “then we're nothing but a bunch of idiots.”