House Republicans close in on deal to keep government open
House Republicans are close to locking in the necessary votes to keep the government open past Friday’s deadline.
GOP leaders are “inching closer” to the magic number of 217 votes for both a stopgap bill and a disaster aid package, a GOP leadership source told The Hill on Thursday. But the source cautioned that it wasn’t a done deal.
Both Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) expressed confidence to reporters Thursday that the continuing resolution would pass Thursday, though they wouldn’t say where the whip count is.
“What if we have more than the votes we need? How about that,” Scalise said to reporters.
The House Rules Committee approved the spending and emergency relief bills for floor votes, which will take place late Thursday afternoon.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the upper chamber is “ready” to take up the stopgap bill as soon as it lands on their doorstep, though it’s unlikely to be cleared by unanimous consent.
Momentum began building Thursday for leadership’s plan to fund the government through Jan. 19 after the vote count remained in question amid a backlash from defense hawks and House Freedom Caucus members.
But with the shutdown clock ticking — and members eager not to overshadow their victory on tax reform — it appears that more Republicans have come on board with the plan.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced that he would back the strategy, clearing one of the major hurdles standing in leadership’s way.
President Trump also pushed House Republicans to back the continuing resolution and avoid a shutdown, which McCarthy thought was “helpful.” Current funding runs out on Friday at midnight.
“House Democrats want a SHUTDOWN for the holidays in order to distract from the very popular, just passed, Tax Cuts. House Republicans, don’t let this happen. Pass the C.R. TODAY and keep our Government OPEN!” Trump tweeted.
Defense hawks had been furious that the stopgap bill doesn’t provide full-year funding for defense programs — something Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) initially promised his conference several weeks ago. But a bill that included it would have been dead on arrival in the Senate.
Members of the Armed Services Committee huddled Thursday morning in the Rayburn Building to discuss whether the group would continue demanding a full year of funding for the Pentagon. But after Trump’s tweet, they appeared to be getting on board with leadership’s plan.
Thornberry said he agreed to support the resolution because he wanted to give leadership the “time and space” to get a deal on budget caps early next year — and thought most of his fellow defense hawks would follow suit.
“I think [the continuing resolution] will pass and I think — I can’t speak for everybody, but as I’ve said, we’ve had some very intense conversations with each other and with leadership and extending to the administration about this topic, and I think most will,” he said.
Asked whether most defense hawks would back the clean continuing resolution on the floor, one Armed Services Committee member replied: “Looks like that is the direction we are headed.”
Another member of the Armed Services Committee told The Hill he would vote “yes” on the continuing resolution and the disaster supplemental.
Some conservatives had also been concerned that the resolution includes language to temporarily extend a surveillance program authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
But Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said several members of his group flipped from “no” to “yes” after securing a commitment from leadership late Wednesday night that his group would be allowed to offer requested amendments to a long-term FISA bill further down the road.
In addition to FISA language, the continuing resolution also includes funding through March for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, some spending “anomalies” for defense and a waiver for pay-as-you-go budgetary rules so the GOP tax bill doesn’t trigger automatic cuts to Medicare.
House lawmakers on Thursday will also vote on a separate $81 billion disaster aid package that members of the Texas and Florida delegation insisted be approved, though it’s unclear if the Senate will be able take it up before lawmakers leave town.
The massive package provides aid for communities affected by recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as wildfires in California.
But some conservatives have balked at spending $81 billion without offsets, while House Democratic leaders are whipping against the relief package because it doesn’t go far enough. But some Democrats representing regions hit by natural disasters, such as Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), said they support the emergency aid bill.
When lawmakers return to Washington in January, they will have to quickly grapple with all the issues left unfinished this week. House and Senate leaders will seek a bipartisan budget agreement, which would lay the groundwork for an appropriations package to fund agencies for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) dropped demands that measures to help stabilize the ObamaCare insurance marketplaces be included in the stopgap bill this week, but she is still seeking to get it done early next year.
Democrats are also pushing to get a permanent fix for young immigrants in January. The Trump administration is phasing out the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provided temporary work permits for qualifying young immigrants.
Republicans are pushing for border security measures in exchange for enacting protections for the young immigrants who identify themselves as “Dreamers.”
McConnell said Thursday that if negotiators can reach an immigration deal in January, he will bring it up for a vote.
– Rebecca Kheel contributed
– This report was updated at 12:50 p.m.