GOP Is Said to Look at Extending U.S. Funding to March 23

(Bloomberg) -- House and Senate staff are working on a stopgap funding bill that would keep the government operating through March 23, though Republican leaders haven’t yet made a final decision on the plan, according to two Republican congressional aides.

Lawmakers have been working toward a vote on another temporary government spending bill early next week, before the current funding expires on Feb. 8.

“That could be a moving date, but I’ve heard it could be the 23rd," Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania said Thursday at a GOP retreat in West Virginia.

The March 23 end-date could raise alarms about the nation’s debt ceiling, if next week’s measure doesn’t also include raising the federal borrowing limit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said this week that the U.S. may run the risk of default without a debt ceiling increase in early March. The Treasury Department separately urged Congress to raise the limit by the end of February.

Congressional leaders have said they prefer to pair the painful debt-ceiling vote with other must-pass measures like the government spending bill, though there may be other options besides the stopgap funding extension.

Members of leadership told Republicans at their retreat that the debt limit will have to be dealt with “sooner rather than later,” and lawmakers should be prepared for that, according to Texas Representative Bill Flores of Texas.

“I believe very strongly the debt limit has to be part of the budget agreement or one of these must-pass measures between now and March," Dent said. "I say vote on it sooner rather than later."

The six-week stopgap bill is unlikely to carry either a bipartisan spending caps deal or an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system. Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said this week that the next stopgap measure could include an extension of the expired community health centers program or of expired Medicare provisions in order to attract Democratic votes.

‘Still Negotiating’

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters in West Virginia that even if a spending caps deal is reached next week, another stopgap bill is inevitable because it would take weeks to come up with a catch-all spending measure to finish the fiscal 2018 process.

"We’re still negotiating the contents and duration of that," Ryan said of the stopgap bill.

Senate Democrats said this week they won’t risk a second government shutdown to force a vote on immigration as long as progress is being made toward a resolution of the issue.

“I don’t think we’ll see the threat of another shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters in West Virginia.

But there may be objections from conservative House Republicans in the House toward supporting another temporary spending bill, known as a continuing resolution.

“I don’t see the possibility of the House Freedom Caucus supporting a fifth CR without substantial changes," Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the group, told reporters in West Virginia.

The Freedom Caucus threatened to vote against the most recent stopgap bill but relented under pressure from the White House and with a promise that the leadership would seek to drum up support for a hard-line immigration bill.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.