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CQ Roll Call Survey Finds Little Shutdown Fear Among Hill Staff

The budget brinksmanship is over. At least so say big majorities of both Democratic and Republican congressional aides surveyed in late November by CQ Roll Call.

Three in four Democratic aides said there would be no government shutdown this month, as Republicans and Democrats race to assemble an appropriations package in advance of the Dec. 11 end of the fiscal 2016 continuing resolution (PL 114-53).

Republicans — who forced an impasse in 2013 in an effort to block President Barack Obama’s health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) and took the funding fight to the brink of a shutdown twice this year over Homeland Security Department and Planned Parenthood funding — are even more adamant. More than nine in 10 say the government will remain open.

On the one hand, that reflects hope among the House GOP rank-and-file that new Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin can cut a deal to their liking. On the other, it’s an acknowledgment that staff members have been down this road twice already this year and their leadership has caved both times.

And there’s a good chance a majority of House Republicans will oppose any potential omnibus regardless, considering that two in three voted no on the October budget deal (PL 114-74) that set its $1.1 trillion spending level.

“I believe that there is a little bit of optimism and a little bit of realism,” says Sam Geduldig, a partner at the CGCN Group lobbying firm and former aide to Ohio Republican John A. Boehner. “I think staff reflect their bosses’ attitudes about things. Their bosses are optimistic about the new leadership and their bosses know that Speaker Ryan is ultimately going to have to cut a deal.”

GOP Approval Rises

One thing is certain: Republican aides are feeling much better about their leadership, following the turmoil of October, when Boehner resigned the speakership and Ryan reluctantly assumed it.

Four in five Republican staffers said they approved of their leadership this month, compared to just half of those who responded to CQ Roll Call’s Capitol Insiders Survey in October. Results for this survey were collected Nov. 16 through 20. The questionnaire was sent to 6,625 congressional staff members in CQ Roll Call’s online database, and 281 responded.

Thanks to Ryan, “a lot of members are going to have a better time understanding they won’t get perfection, but will have had a say in the process,” says Mike Shields, a former spokesman for ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. Shields now leads a Republican Super PAC.

House and Senate appropriators are working on finalizing an omnibus spending bill and hope to have it ready by the end of the week, with little time to spare before the Dec. 11 deadline. The alternative would be another continuing resolution, either for a short time or the long term.

Policy Riders

Given the October budget deal, the main fight now is over policy riders in the omnibus, and aides on both sides predict they’re going to win.

Before Thanksgiving, a big swath of Republican representatives wrote to Ryan and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., urging a rider barring the Obama administration from admitting refugees from Syria to the United States.

It could well make the cut, considering that 47 Democrats joined a nearly unanimous GOP in voting for House legislation (HR 4038) last month that would subject the refugees to increased security screening before admitting them, providing a veto-proof margin. The Senate hasn’t yet acted on that bill and Obama says he would vehemently oppose any restriction on his authority.

And House conservatives plan to push for policy riders aimed at changing the health care law, rolling back financial and environmental regulations and defunding Planned Parenthood, though it’s less likely those would even make it past Senate Democrats before Obama vetoed them.

Republican aides were less confident of victory than their Democratic counterparts. Six in 10 Democrats expected Obama would win the fight over riders, while only five in 10 Republicans thought the GOP would.

More striking, only 15 percent of Democrats thought Republicans could secure victories with riders, while 32 percent of Republicans said they expected Obama would hold them off.

“The reality is that Democrats will probably win because they have the most leverage: Obama’s veto pen,” says Steve Elmendorf, a partner with the Subject Matter lobbying firm and former aide to House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

Still, the refugee issue was in flux at the time staff members answered CQ Roll Call’s survey and the politics there would seem to offer Republicans a shot at a win. And they may well get some other, less high-profile victories, says Neil Bradley, a former aide to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California who is now chief strategy officer at the Conservative Reform Network, a GOP idea incubator.

“So much depends on what the definition of a win is,” he says. “If for Democrats it’s to keep all policy riders out, that’s not going to be achievable. If a Republican win is getting high-profile ones that overturn Obama policy, that’s not likely either. The reality is in the middle.”

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