House Republicans on Tuesday night appeared to coalesce around a short-term funding bill to avert a government shutdown Friday — even as conservatives threatened to oppose it and a bitter fight continued over the fate of more than 700,000 Dreamers.
Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled a plan at a House GOP Conference meeting to fund the government through Feb. 16, and numerous rank-and-file members quickly endorsed it despite their frustration with another short-term patch. To further sweeten the pot, the Wisconsin Republican’s bill also includes a delay of several Obamacare taxes and a six-year extension of a popular health care program for children.
That — combined with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) threats to withhold Democratic votes to help pass the measure — appeared to have won over key GOP skeptics.
“It’s a good strategic position because not only does it offer CHIP [funding] for six years … but you also have a medical device tax delay as well as the Cadillac tax delay,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.), referring to some of the taxes that would be delayed. “I think it puts Democrats in a very difficult position of having to vote against that in the House or in the Senate.”
House GOP leaders will whip the bill Wednesday before a possible Thursday vote. If the funding measure passes the House, senior Republican sources in both chambers expect the measure to clear the Senate.
House GOP leaders, however, still have some work to do: House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said many of his conservative members oppose the plan, dismissing the tax delays as a “gimmick” that won’t necessarily help leaders find 218 votes for passage.
After the GOP Conference meeting, the House Freedom Caucus met and did not take a position on the stopgap bill. But Meadows expressed skepticism leadership’s plan would pass in its current form with just Republican votes.
“Based on the number of ‘no’ and undecided votes, there is not enough votes for a Republican-only bill,” he said.
Defense hawks, likewise, still aren’t thrilled. Rep. Austin Scott, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, stood up at the GOP Conference meeting to lecture leadership about how temporary continuing resolutions cripple the military.
“In the end, the issue with national security is totally different than any of the other issues hanging out there,” the Georgia Republican said in a brief interview before the meeting. “We need to resolve this issue.”
Democratic and Republican party leaders had hoped to reach a long-term budget agreement by Friday, when the government runs out of money. But Democrats have been loath to strike a deal to raise strict spending caps without a solution for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors.
Those young adults, known as Dreamers, face deportation as early as March unless Congress codifies the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, which President Donald Trump is rescinding.
The stalemate has led to a series of stopgap funding bills, and this week’s will be the fourth since September.
Typically, appropriators abhor funding the government on a temporary basis, as it does not allow agencies to plan. But even some appropriators backed Ryan’s pitch Tuesday night.
“It was pretty positive, even though some people are saying — and rightfully so — ‘Man, here we go again!’” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). “They’re frustrated that we’re not getting the final deal done, but they understand the position we’re in, too. … This is the best we can do right now. We don’t have a deal on DACA.”
That’s also the feeling of some top defense hawks in the House, who’ve used their votes to pressure leaders before.
“We’re going to have a CR,” said Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who leads the appropriations subcommittee on defense. “We’re not going to shut down the government.”
The House continuing resolution will include a two-year delay of the medical device tax, an unpopular Obamacare levy on equipment such as defibrillators and surgical tools. The tax has been delayed for two years but went back into effect on Jan. 1.
The bill also includes a delay of the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health insurance plans favored by labor unions, as well as on Obamacare’s health insurance tax, which is now going into effect after a one-year delay.
Newly elected House Budget Committee Chairman Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said the “play call,” as outlined by Ryan, is to dare Democrats to vote against all the extra policy items GOP leaders have thrown into the spending bill. The Children’s Health Insurance Program has long been a top priority for Democrats, for example, and many Democrats are also no fans of the Obamacare taxes that would be delayed.
Pelosi is expected to whip her caucus against helping Republicans get the votes needed for passage. But Republicans hope the CHIP attachment entices some House Democrats, particularly Congressional Black Caucus members, to peel off.
In December, when GOP leaders attached a short-term CHIP provision to the bill funding the government through Jan. 19, some Democrats privately complained about voting against the measure. Opposing a six-year funding measure — which goes well beyond December’s six-month patch — would be even more difficult for these Democrats, Republicans believe.
“It’s a strategy that we think is a winning formula,” Womack said. “I mean, when you think about medical device tax, Cadillac tax, health insurance tax, voting against the CR, voting against funding our troops — those are really difficult positions to maintain if you’re the other side.”
For some, however, that’s not good enough.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a key player in the House Freedom Caucus, will oppose the leadership plan because, he said, it doesn’t boost Pentagon spending sufficiently. He and Scott made a push during the conference meeting to include a full year of military funding, but that would almost certainly fail in the Senate without an equivalent increase in non-defense spending.”I’m for funding the troops, holding the line on non-defense, and doing what we told the American people we were going to do,” Jordan said on Tuesday while exiting the meeting. “This package is not consistent with what the election was about.”
Freedom Caucus leaders plan to present GOP leaders with their own spending proposals as soon as Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. At least one of those ideas is a full-year of defense spending attached to a monthlong stopgap for domestic spending.
Still, some conservatives are already on board with the proposal. Rep. Mo Brooks, an Armed Services and Freedom Caucus member rarely aligned with leadership, backed Ryan’s idea Tuesday night.
“We’re going to address the government staying open,” the Alabama Republican said, expressing joy that the plan didn’t include a DACA fix. “There will be nothing that relates to illegal aliens in this issue. This is to fund the government. … I think it will pass the House.”
The response, indeed, had senior Republicans feeling more confident Tuesday night than they had in a while.
“We don’t need any Democrats in the House,” boasted senior appropriator Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “And I don’t think the Democrats in the Senate have the nerve to shut down the government.”