House Republicans are short of the votes they need to avoid a government shutdown, but Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP leaders remain confident they will pass a stopgap funding measure when it comes to the floor on Thursday.
President Donald Trump is personally leaning on GOP lawmakers to fall into line, especially hard-line conservatives who are opposed to virtually anything Ryan and his leadership team propose.
Across the Capitol, Senate Democrats are upset about the House potentially jamming them with a last-minute bill that would do nothing more than avert the worst-case scenario. They’re still smarting over Trump seemingly backing away last week from a bipartisan deal to protect 700,000 Dreamers from deportation.
Senate Democrats have refused to say whether they will block the funding measure, though Republicans believe Democrats won’t risk a shutdown with control of the chamber in play this fall.
With government funding set to run out in two days — and the two sides far apart on an immigration deal — Ryan and senior House Republicans are pushing legislation to keep the government funded until Feb. 16. In a bid to pick up votes from both parties, the measure would also fund a popular children’s health program for six more years and delay the implementation of several Obamacare taxes.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrats have refused to back the plan. Since Republicans are in the majority, they should pass the short-term funding bill — the fourth since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1 — without their help, they say.
With Democrats on the sidelines, Republicans spent Wednesday leaning on every member for their vote.
“I think it passes. I don’t think it’s overwhelming, but I think it passes,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said after GOP lawmakers met on Wednesday.
Inside the House Republican Conference, there are three main factions of potential “no votes”: defense hawks unhappy over the leadership’s failure to boost Pentagon funding; the Freedom Caucus, the group of conservative hard-liners; and members who are simply unsure what to do.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) — both key players on defense issues — will back the funding bill, according to Turner and a top House Republican.
“I’m voting for the CR in support of the speaker and his efforts to get a budget deal,” Turner said.
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), a defense hawk whose state stands to run out of funding for the children’s health program this month, admitted Wednesday that he was “torn” over the bill.
“It’s a pretty tough vote for me, but it’s really a tough vote for all of us, because I think all of us care about defense and all of us care about” children’s health, Byrne said, suggesting that he will ultimately back the proposal.
Knowing the vote is close, Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other GOP leaders debated on Wednesday morning whether to add even more provisions to the package, such as funding for community health centers. In the end, they decided to move ahead with the package as is, said GOP sources.
But Freedom Caucus leaders say their group alone has enough disgruntled members to block the bill if Democrats remain opposed.
The group’s chairman, Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), is working to elbow himself into the broader spending and immigration talks. Meadows said his main priority is to make sure Ryan has a plan to end the “stop-and-go” budgeting cycle.
Noting the Congress has already passed three continuing resolutions, or CRs, to keep the government running, he said, “So how is this CR going to produce a plan that’s different than the last three? Are we just going to hope that Feb. 16 is better than Jan. 19 just because it’s in a different month?”
Trump has been pressuring Meadows to vote for the funding bill, and GOP leaders hope it will eventually bring Freedom Caucus members around. The White House issued a formal statement in support of the CR package on Wednesday afternoon.
Restless conservatives have been asking Ryan and other senior Republicans for concessions to get them to “yes,” though it’s unclear if they’ll get them. Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) said he’s holding out for assurances from GOP leaders that they’ll put a conservative Dreamers bill authored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on the floor. But GOP leaders have resisted, fearing a vote would upset bipartisan immigration talks to shield young immigrants from deportation.
Other Freedom Caucus members are pushing to attach a year-long appropriation for the Pentagon. GOP leaders, however, know that will fail in the Senate so aren’t entertaining the idea.
“It’s crisis management at its worse,” Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) complained. “Nobody wants to shut down the government but if they load this up … they’re going to have a fight on this.”
House Democrats will refuse to bail out GOP leaders if they can’t put up the votes themselves.
“My sense is that everybody’s going to be unified on this. We’re not going to have many defections, if any,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.). “We have no bargaining power if we don’t stay unified.”
When asked if Democrats would uniformly vote against the bill, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, “We’ll see what they’re going to do, but I think that’s probably the case.”
During a press conference on Wednesday, Ryan tried to blame Democrats for any problems passing the funding bill, despite the internal GOP schism.
“Real deadlines are occurring this Friday,” Ryan told reporters. “That is why it is unconscionable to me that they would block funding for our military or cut off funding for these states that really will lose their funding for [children’s health] by playing these political games and tying them to unrelated issues.”
House Republicans had hoped to gain some Democratic votes by attaching policy sweeteners to the bill, including children’s health funding and delay of the Obamacare taxes.
But members of the Congressional Black Caucus, whom Republicans had hoped to win over, say they’re still planning to oppose the proposal.
Many CBC members were livid after Trump called certain African nations “shithole countries” during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House last week. They say the episode strengthened their resolve to withhold votes until Republicans show progress on a bipartisan Dreamers deal.
Children’s health funding “alone is probably not going to change much,” said CBC Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) after the group’s weekly meeting Wednesday. “Why would we want to send a message to 800,000 young people … that DACA is not important enough to demand action on it in exchange for our support?”
Pelosi implored Democrats to vote against the measure during a caucus meeting Wednesday morning.
“We can’t vote for what they’re putting forth. Not for what’s in it but [for] what’s not in it,” Pelosi told lawmakers, according to an aide in the room. “This is an important moment for our caucus, standing up for what we know is right … We will not give up our leverage, for our priorities and for our Dreamers.”
Senate Democrats have not taken a formal position on the spending package yet, waiting to see what happens in the House first.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted that a number of Democrats “have said they don’t like this deal … [and if we] kick the can down the road this time, we’ll be back where we started the next time. So there’s very, very strong support not to go along.”
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there was little enthusiasm for the GOP plan during a Democratic policy lunch on Wednesday. “A handful stood up and said, ‘We’re going to vote against the CR.’ Another one or two said not sure. No one stood up and said they had to vote for the CR.”
Rachael Bade contributed to this report.
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