Trouble brewing as GOP struggles with spending bill votes

Greg Nash

House Republican leaders are moving ahead with a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open for a few more weeks, even as they struggled on Wednesday to secure the necessary GOP votes for the plan.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus and the House Armed Services Committee huddled separately with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) late Wednesday night to voice opposition to leadership’s plan to avoid a government shutdown, which will take place Friday at midnight if Congress doesn’t intervene.

In an encouraging sign for Ryan and his top lieutenants, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said several members of his group flipped from “no” to “yes” after striking a deal with leadership on a temporary reauthorization of a surveillance program that is also included in the tentative spending patch.

{mosads}But defense hawks were still unhappy that the continuing resolution (CR) won’t include a full year of funding for defense, though it’s unclear if there will be enough opposition to sink the bill. 

“I think there are a lot of people who are going to spend their time tonight really thinking about whether or not this is the hill we’re going to die on,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla), a member of Armed Services Committee, said coming out of Ryan’s office. “We just had this great moment on tax reform.”

“I think they’re going to get the votes,” he added.   


GOP leadership has been scrambling to avoid a government shutdown just days before the holidays. They outlined a strategy to the conference on Wednesday that would involve passing a clean CR to fund the government through Jan. 19 and holding a separate vote on a massive $81 billion disaster aid package.

But the strategy was quickly thrown in doubt as it became clear House GOP leadership did not have the votes to get the bill through the chamber.

“I don’t think what they’re whipping right now will get 218 [votes]. I don’t think it will even be close,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

It marks the second time in as many days that House GOP leaders have had their plans foiled amid backlash from defense hawks and conservative members.

Republican leadership needs to pass a stopgap bill without the help of House Democrats, who are being urged by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to oppose the CR because it doesn’t address a host of Democratic priorities, including immigration, money for the opioid crisis and a boost for nondefense spending caps.

GOP members were whipped on the clean CR during the Wednesday evening vote series. In addition to government funding, the bill would temporarily fund the expiring Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), temporarily extend the government’s surveillance powers and include a series of spending “anomalies” for defense.

The House Rules Committee is supposed to meet early Thursday morning to prepare both the CR and the disaster relief bill for floor votes later in the day.

But the strategy initially ran into resistance after it was presented to the GOP conference. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) described the meeting as “tense” as the party struggled to unite around a plan to keep the government open. 

Defense hawks are adamant that the stopgap bill include a full year of funding for defense. GOP leadership had initially promised to link the CR with funding for the Pentagon in exchange for their votes on the previous two-week CR. 

But that original plan was scrapped on Tuesday amid complaints that the defense-CR package was dead on arrival in the Senate, where some Democratic support is needed. There were also reservations about the massive disaster aid package that was supposed to be attached to the stopgap bill. 

Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a member of both the Freedom Caucus and the Armed Services Committee, said he wants to force GOP leaders to send the Senate a long-term extension of defense spending.

“We’re doing our troops a real disservice. … I think it’s going to take a couple volleys. I don’t think this thing will whip out to where the votes are there for what leadership’s proposing,” he told reporters Wednesday evening. 

“So I think us — and you — are in for a long week. I don’t expect to get out of here until Friday or Saturday,” he added.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), another member of the Armed Services Committee, said he was “bitterly disappointed” and would oppose a stopgap bill that didn’t fund defense programs through the year.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), a Freedom Caucus member, also said he was a “lean no.”

Meanwhile, some conservatives were also concerned that the CR includes language to temporarily extend a surveillance program authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). 

“If they took FISA extension off the CR, I would hold my nose and vote for it,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), another member of the Freedom Caucus. 

Meadows, who wants to see long-term reforms to the spying program, said he secured a commitment from leadership that there would eventually be a standalone vote on a long-term FISA reauthorization and that his group would be allowed to offer requested amendments.

Leaders have been adamant that they will not allow the government to close, which many Republicans worry would overshadow their recent victory on tax reform.

“It’s kind of like leaving the hospital, just finding out you’re cancer free, and getting run over by a Mack truck,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

Mike Lillis and Cristina Marcos contributed to this report, which was updated at 11:24 p.m.

Tags Bradley Byrne Chris Collins Jim Jordan Louie Gohmert Mark Meadows Mark Walker Matt Gaetz Nancy Pelosi Paul Ryan Ted Yoho
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