House GOP Pushes Funding Gambit Day Ahead of Shutdown Deadline

(Bloomberg) -- House Republican leaders quelled most of the squabbles among GOP lawmakers over a stopgap funding bill and were moving toward a vote, making a bid to force the Senate to accept their trimmed-down version of the plan to avert a government shutdown.

The House Rules Committee sent to the House floor a measure that would maintain funding for government operations through Jan. 19 and provide extra funds for some Pentagon expenses and health programs. It also approved rules for considering separate legislation to provide $81 billion to assist recovery from hurricanes and wildfires. A House vote was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

One key provision of the spending bill would waive automatic cuts to Medicare and dozens of other federal programs, which would kick in because of the deficit impact of the tax overhaul passed this week.

Waiving the spending cut trigger -- known as Paygo, for pay-as-you-go -- would make it easier for President Donald Trump to sign the tax legislation before the start of 2018. A White House official said Wednesday that if the Paygo issue is resolved, Trump’s goal is to sign the tax bill on Friday at the White House.

However some Democrats previously said they opposed the waiver, and Republican Senator Rand Paul said on Twitter Thursday he would “force a Senate vote to keep the caps in place” if the House sends over a measure with the waiver in place.

Vote Counts

House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders had worked to round up support for the measure, which likely will have to pass with only Republican votes despite objections from some of the party’s conservatives and defense hawks. The funding bill and disaster assistance would need to draw support from at least eight Democrats in the Senate to reach the 60-vote threshold required to proceed and beat a deadline at the end of the day on Friday.

The disaster aid will probably need support from Democrats in the House as well, since some conservatives oppose paying out $81 billion without cuts elsewhere to offset the cost.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that chamber “stands ready” to take up the legislation as soon as the House acts. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said after a meeting of his fellow Republicans that the Senate could vote as soon as Thursday night, though that might slip to Friday.

“They’re still working it out,” he said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer deflected questions about the House version of the spending plan, but indicated he wouldn’t stand in the way. While listing Democratic priorities in remarks on the Senate floor, Schumer said, “We have to solve these issues together, even if that means passing a clean, short-term” spending resolution.

Schumer said Democrats have trouble with the disaster bill and that it may be blocked until next year.

Both chambers have to pass the spending bill before midnight Friday to avert a partial government shutdown. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said after meeting with fellow

Trump on Thursday urged Congress to get the funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, passed quickly, and accused Democrats of wanting to force a government closure.

“House Democrats want a SHUTDOWN for the holidays in order to distract from the very popular, just passed, Tax Cuts.” the president said on Twitter.

Conservatives Object

To get a spending measure together that could pass both chambers in a short time frame, Ryan had to retool his original plan to attach a full year of defense funding to appease conservatives who threatened to oppose anything that didn’t fully fund the military. The Senate, meanwhile, had to drop other health-related legislation that some of the more moderate members demanded by the end of the year. The bill heading to the House floor breaks promises to both House conservatives and Senate moderates.

“I don’t understand. Do we take orders from the Senate here?” Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican who is a member of the Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday. “If they choose not to fund defense, I guess that’s up to them. Or if they have a better idea, why don’t they send us something?”

Giving In

By Thursday morning there were signs that pre-holiday exhaustion was beginning to set in, sapping any desire for a showdown. North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said he told leadership he would vote yes “on the strategy discussed last night,” which he described as voting on this continuing resolution with the expectation that it will not be amended in the Senate. He said he’s still checking with the other three dozen members in the caucus to see where other members stand.

Republican Representative Mac Thornberry, head of the House Armed Services Committee, said he will vote for the plan even though leaders jettisoned a full-year defense bill.

Gary Cohn, President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser, said Wednesday that he expects Congress to settle on a two-week extension of federal funding and deal with other issues in January, including lifting caps on spending for defense and domestic programs.

“We’ll deal with caps and we’ll deal with all the spending issues -- military issues, and all the other issues at the beginning of next year,” he said at an Axios event in Washington.

Insurance Premiums

Among the items being left until next year are two bipartisan measures designed to bring down Obamacare insurance premiums. McConnell promised Maine Senator Susan Collins action on those pieces of legislation to get her vote on the tax overhaul legislation that passed the Senate early Wednesday. But a number of conservative Republicans in the House have said they won’t support the health insurance measure.

“It looks like the Christmas present of lower health insurance premiums will now have to be a Valentine’s Day present,” Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and a co-sponsor of one of the measures, said in a statement. “It is hard to add our bills to a year-end package that does not yet exist.”

Democrats have their own list of demands. Schumer said Tuesday he wants more money to combat the opioid crisis plus enactment of the CHIP and Obamacare health bills, disaster relief and protection against deportation for 800,000 young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers.” He warned against a simple funding extension that would include “some of these items but not others.”

“That won’t work. We should be doing all of these things together instead of in a piecemeal, week-by-week fashion,” Schumer said.

The immigration plan may be one hurdle out of the way for now. Republican and Democratic senators working on an immigration deal say they are closing in on an agreement combining a border-security package with deportation protections for young undocumented immigrants, though a final resolution would not come until January.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.