Finance

Conservatives fear end-of-year ‘Christmas tree’ spending bill

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Conservatives are growing worried that an end-of-year spending bill will be loaded up with extraneous, expensive provisions as lawmakers rush to prevent a government shutdown and get home for the holidays next month.

“Loading up the Christmas tree right before the end of the year is never good,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “Push it off to next year, there’s too much in flux right now.”

“Once people get ready to get out the door, a lot of things become acceptable that wouldn’t in other seasons,” added Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), another Freedom Caucus member.

Democrats are demanding a series of concessions for Republicans to get their votes on the bill, including language to protect young immigrants who received work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Trump is winding down.

Republicans are likely to need Democratic votes in both the House and Senate to win passage of legislation to fund the government.

Complicating matters further is the fact that if Congress doesn’t approve a new law setting limits on spending by late January, automatic spending cuts known as sequestration are set to be imposed under an earlier budget law.

This means that if Congress approves a continuing resolution to keep existing government funding in place — a typical move for lawmakers when they can’t come to an agreement — big cuts will be implemented for the Pentagon and domestic programs.

Democrats are insisting that any increase in defense spending be matched, dollar-for-dollar, with increases in nondefense spending.

Earlier this year, when Congress approved a spring bill to fund the government through the last fiscal year, Democrats agreed to a deal that did not match defense spending for nondefense spending.

They are now signaling they want to make up for that fact in the new fight.

“We are also focused on resolving the spending issues going forward for 2018, particularly the parity between defense and domestic spending, so there are a lot of things to be discussed,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday.

The so-called four corners — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — have begun meetings with the White House to hammer out a deal.

Ryan, however, has acknowledged a short-term deal may be necessary to keep the government open past Dec. 8, when a current spending agreement runs out.

That would keep lawmakers in Washington closer to Christmas trying to hammer out a deal for the next fiscal year.

The idea that a legislative solution for the DACA program could be included in the bill in the rush to leave Washington is a particular concern for some Republicans.

“DACA is a serious issue, we should find some serious solutions on it. Not rush, jam something through,” said Brat.

It’s also a top priority for Democrats, who seem unlikely to agree to any spending bill that does not provide support for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Many could face deportation in March unless a fix is made.

Pelosi and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are among the Democrats who have said the party should withhold votes for a funding bill unless a DACA deal is reached.

Democrats could potentially force the issue on the short-term spending bill, though aides say they are more inclined to hold out for an agreement related to the larger, long-term spending bill.

“We certainly have an opportunity, and I haven’t talked to the majority leader about that, and I’ll want to see what he says, but I will tell you that we are very focused on DACA,” Hoyer said.

Another factor could be legislation to fund ObamaCare payments to insurers meant to help people buy insurance.

On Wednesday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that the year-end spending bill would also likely include these cost-sharing subsidies.

On defense spending, the House this week approved a $692 billion authorization package with bipartisan support, making that figure a likely starting point for appropriators.

The bill represents a $77.4 billion increase from caps set in law for 2018.

If Democrats get their way, nondefense spending would increase by the same amount, from the $516 billion cap in law to $593.4 billion.

Either increase on its own would bust the deficit wide open.

“The fiscal stability of the country and its national security environment are the two wings that hold up this airplane. To pit these two things against each other is a terrible mistake,” said conservative Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).

“For the fiscal hawks and the defense hawks, and I’m both, for us to go to war with each other is to decimate the country,” he added.

Either way, Franks said, the process was subpar.

“The process itself almost precipitates a dirt and ice cream kind of outcome,” he said.

Tags Charles Schumer John Cornyn Mark Sanford Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan Steny Hoyer Trent Franks

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