House Republicans are moving ahead with a plan to avoid a Saturday U.S. government shutdown by passing a two-week stopgap spending measure, overriding conservative GOP lawmakers who were pressing for a longer extension to get more leverage over Democrats and the Senate.
The decision on a stopgap bill with a Dec. 22 end-date rather than a Dec. 30 expiration came after House Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team held discussions on overall budget strategy with the leaders of the restive House Freedom Caucus.
The House Rules Committee approved a rule setting the bill up for a floor vote Thursday, after which the Senate will have until the end of the day Friday to avoid a partial government shutdown. A formal check of how members would vote on the Dec. 22 deadline came back showing widespread support, said Representative Dennis Ross, a member of the vote-whipping team.
The Freedom Caucus will discuss the stopgap at a meeting tonight, according to a House Republican aide. Votes from the group’s three-dozen members may not be needed if Democrats support the stopgap plan.
As part of the talks, the Freedom Caucus has sought and Republican leaders are weighing a plan to attach the House’s fiscal year 2018 defense spending bill to a second resolution to keep the government funded after Dec. 22, according to Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and Representative Mac Thornberry, the Texas Republican who leads the House Armed Services Committee.
Under that measure, H.R. 3219, the Defense Department would receive $584.2 billion in discretionary funding for fiscal 2018 and $73.9 billion in war funding that is exempt from the budgetary caps set by law.
That bill could be enough to mollify Thornberry and Republican members of the House Armed Services panel who have threatened to oppose any spending measures that don’t adequately fund the Pentagon. National security spending is capped at $549 billion for fiscal year 2018. The Pentagon’s spending, which is the majority of national security spending, is capped at $522 billion for the year. Congress would have to pass legislation to increase the caps and accommodate the House’s defense spending measure.
Meadows said Wednesday that progress had been made in obtaining assurances this plan would be followed. Even if this House Republican leadership plan passes muster in the the chamber, it is practically dead on arrival in the Senate where Democratic votes are needed to end debate.
There, Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, said that his caucus wouldn’t support a full-year defense bill without funding the other government agencies. The plan to add children’s health insurance and disaster relief aid alongside the defense bill wouldn’t make it more palatable to the Democrats.
“We can’t be selective,” Durbin of Illinois said in an interview. The goal for the Democrats remains to win parity in funding for domestic programs, Durbin added.
Democratic Senator Jack Reed said on Tuesday that approving just a defense spending bill would shortchange other aspects of national security such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations and activities of the State Department, all of which would be funded by a stopgap measure.
Republican Representative Charlie Dent, one of the leaders of the moderate Tuesday Group caucus, said the Freedom Caucus strategy is doomed and a waste of time.
“This is an act of Senate denial,” he said, adding the Senate would not pass a standalone defense bill even if paired with disaster aid.
“They will just strip out the defense bill and send it back,” he predicted.
Meadows acknowledged difficulty with the Senate but said there could be a shot of getting the defense bill passed if it were paired with disaster aid and a children’s health insurance bill that Democrats would find it hard to vote against.
This week’s stopgap spending measure includes a short-term extension of the Children’s health funding to the end of the calendar year and of the National Flood Insurance Program to Dec. 30.
Democrats have yet to announce their approach to the government funding bill. President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that a shutdown could happen because of Democratic demands. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi responded saying Democrats aren’t seeking a shutdown.
Trump, Pelosi and other top Republican and Democratic leaders head to the White House Thursday for budget talks. Democrats want any defense spending increases matched with equal domestic spending boosts as well as for a deportation relief by the end of the year for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
The government has been funded under a temporary measure known as a continuing resolution since Oct. 1. Republican leaders are aiming to finish work on all appropriations for federal agencies in the current fiscal year sometime in January.
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