GOP leaders pitch children’s health funding in plan to avert shutdown
House GOP leaders on Tuesday night pitched a new strategy to avert a looming government shutdown that includes children’s health funding and the delay of ObamaCare taxes.
Lawmakers need to pass a short-term stopgap bill by midnight Friday, when money for the federal government runs out. The latest GOP plan would keep the government’s lights on through Feb. 16 and be coupled with a six-year extension of funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
The continuing resolution (CR) would also delay ObamaCare’s medical device and Cadillac taxes for two years, and the health insurance tax for one year starting in 2019.
It would not include relief for immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children, which Democrats have been pushing for.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the chief deputy whip, was full of confidence as he left the meeting of House Republicans in the Capitol’s basement.
“I think we’re going to have a good vote and we can move this process forward,” said McHenry, who’s filling in as the GOP’s top vote-counter as Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) recovers from a surgery.
Asked if GOP leaders can rally the Republicans needed to pass the CR without any Democrats, McHenry was optimistic — and terse.
“Yep,” he said.
The House could vote as early as Thursday on the stopgap spending measure, with leadership expected to whip the bill on Wednesday.
If House GOP leaders can corral enough votes for the funding extension, the shutdown spotlight would shift to the Senate, where nine Democrats are needed to overcome a filibuster. Republicans are betting enough vulnerable Democratic senators will end up supporting the CR, especially if it includes funding for CHIP.
In the House, however, Democrats are adamantly opposed to any spending bill that does not include protections for recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Trump rescinded the program last year and gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a permanent legal solution, but bipartisan negotiations on a DACA deal have been at a standstill following reports of President Trump’s disparaging remarks about “shithole countries.”
That means House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will need to rely on GOP votes to pass the fourth temporary funding patch since September.
Leaving the House GOP conference meeting in the Capitol’s basement on Tuesday evening, lawmakers said the reaction to the stopgap spending plan seemed mostly positive.
“From the feel of the room, it looks like they would have the 218,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, who noted that not a single person who supported the last CR say they’d vote against the latest stopgap measure.
While Walker railed against the CR as a “crap sandwich with moldy bread,” he indicated he was not opposed to the funding bill.
At the moment, it’s not yet certain that the bill can pass with only Republican votes.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus, a band of roughly 30 conservative lawmakers, are divided over the strategy, with Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) saying he wasn’t sure he could support the CR.
There was not enough consensus for the far-right group to take a formal position on the stopgap bill, but Meadows emerged from a Freedom Caucus meeting late Tuesday evening saying that they likely had enough votes to defeat the CR.
“There is currently not enough support for the latest leadership initiative,” Meadows told The Hill. “We continue to work with them to find a way to reach consensus on a path forward.”
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), another Freedom Caucus leader, also said he was undecided on the stopgap bill. He wants to see a conservative DACA bill authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) “moving forward in parallel with a CR, so everybody knows where the House is.”
Freedom Caucus Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) initially said he was leaning “yes” on the stopgap bill, but flipped his position to “lean no” after the group’s Tuesday night meeting. He also wants to see a floor vote on the Goodlatte bill, as well as more certainty for the Pentagon.
But other Freedom Caucus members were more receptive to the CR. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said earlier that he was leaning “yes” on the funding patch, while Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said the “potential is there” to win his support, noting he wants to see defense funded for the full year.
GOP leaders also are running into trouble rounding up votes from defense hawks. Both Reps. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), two members of the House Armed Services Committee, said they may vote against the CR because it harms military readiness and puts U.S. troops at risk.
The defense hawks are demanding that Congress fund the Pentagon at higher levels for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year and pass a short-term CR for the rest of the government.
“A CR does real damage [to the military]; this is the fourth CR,” Cheney told The Hill. “And it’s time for us to pass the [defense] appropriations bill over here and force the Senate to explain why they are holding hostage the funding for our troops.”
But Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of an Armed Services subcommittee, said he would likely be able to support the CR.
While Republicans expressed frustration during the meeting that they have to once again back another CR, many of them acknowledged that it’s better than the alternative: a government shutdown.
“You don’t really have a choice,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a former Energy and Commerce chairman who is a Freedom Caucus member. “When you control the House, the Senate and the presidency, how can you shut the government down?”
Mike Lillis contributed.
Updated at 11:15 p.m.