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Pence Previews Trump Priorities While GOP Seeks to Punt Funding Debate Into New Year

VP-elect tells members they should expect to work more next Congress

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan had a private meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan had a private meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Vice President-elect Mike Pence previewed some of the incoming Trump administration’s priorities on Capitol Hill Thursday while Speaker Paul D. Ryan sought to accommodate the next president by laying plans to punt a government funding debate into next March.

With Pence present, Ryan told a House Republican Conference meeting that they would vote on a short-term continuing resolution in the lame-duck session.

The stopgap spending bill would maintain funding for federal agencies and programs through March 31 and replace another short-term CR that expires Dec. 9. 

While the move would sync with the Trump’s reported desire to deal with government spending in the spring, once he is in the White House, the decision drew fire from some senators, including Republicans who argued it would be better for the future administration to wrap up the funding question this year.

“We’ve got a lot of appointments to fill. The Senate’s going to be very, very busy,” said South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham. “If we do a CR to March or April, then we’ll have to deal with that at the same time we’re trying to confirm his nominees.”

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain took to the Senate floor to call backers of the continuing resolution “idiots.” 

But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told reporters that Ryan was in touch with the Trump transition team on the government funding issue, and he would defer to Ryan.

“Whatever the House can pass, we’ll pass over here,” Cornyn said. 

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Pence, a former six-term congressman from Indiana, received multiple standing ovations from the House GOP conference, according to a source in the room. He told members that while his role as vice president also makes him president of the Senate, his heart will always be in the House, the source said.

Multiple members said Pence told them to expect to be working more in the 115th Congress. 

“He was positive. It was upbeat,” Oregon Rep. Greg Walden said. “It’s a message that we’re going to — better buckle in because we’re going to be putting in long hours and working hard to get America on track.”

According to North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, Pence said, “Advise your families that you need to be prepared for work.”

Meadows laid out how the next few months could play out, noting the coming CR would expire around the time Congress will have to deal with the federal debt limit. The two issues have become intertwined before, but Meadows said, “Hopefully, those are two parallel tracks” this spring.

He also told reporters House Republicans are eyeing a strategy that would tee up two reconciliation measures, a procedural tool that allows budget measures to bypass possible Senate filibusters and pass both chambers with simple majority votes. The first would “repeal and replace” the 2010 health care law, among other things, he said. The contents of the second are still subject to internal deliberations, he said with a grin.

House Budget Chairman Tom Price of Georgia echoed that, saying dealing with the health care law is the “first thing” Republicans want to tackle using reconciliation. Price is being considered for Health and Human Services secretary in the incoming Trump administration.

Meadows said there was no discussion of administration appointments during the meeting and that beyond the discussion of appropriations, there were no other transitional policies identified for a lame-duck agenda. 

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Pence discussed some of the priorities of the incoming administration, including repealing and replacing the health care law, members said.

“I saw more excitement from a variety of members in the conference … than I’ve seen in four years,” Meadows said. 

A readout provided by the Trump transition press staff said Pence also spoke of the incoming administration’s desire to overhaul the tax code, as as well as “securing our border, rebuilding our infrastructure, and other priority items to create jobs and increase security.”

Pence, who is chairing the transition team, said substantial progress is being made with decisions on key appointments, and he welcomed feedback and suggestions from members on building the administration, according to the readout.

Ohio Rep. Michael R. Turner said Pence told House Republicans “exactly what we wanted to hear: He’s a former member of the House … and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

After his meeting with House Republicans, Pence met privately with Ryan for about 45 minutes to discuss legislative priorities. “The two leaders reaffirmed their desire to work hand in glove over the next two months to hit the ground running on Day One of the Trump administration,” the speaker’s office said. 

Pence also met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who called the vice president-elect a “valued player because you know the territory.”

“No disrespect for the sensitivity and knowledge of the president-elect, you know the territory,” Pelosi said. “So in that territory we try to find our common ground where we can.”

Pence said his meetings with Republican and Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill were at the direction of Trump.

Pelosi and Pence said they discussed issues related to infrastructure, child care, reviving the economy and enhancing security.

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“I always found you to be a worthy opponent and leader of the loyal opposition but I have great respect for you and for your service to the country,” Pence said. “I’m just pleased to be able to convey [that] with respect to President-elect Donald Trump to you personally,” Pence said.

Later on Thursday, Pence made his way to the Senate side of the Capitol, where news of the House’s likely embrace of the short-term CR into the next year was not exactly a welcome development.

Senators discussed the issue in their caucus lunches Thursday, but emerged saying more discussions would be had. One GOP senator said there was a “growing sense of disappointment” that a continuing resolution would be the final result.

Democrats blasted the idea, with Senate Appropriations ranking member Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland saying it was “deeply disappointing.”

It’s not clear if the issue of government funding came up in Pence’s meetings in the Senate. He sat down with New York Democrat Charles E. Schumer, the next Senate minority leader, for roughly 25 minutes. Schumer’s office declined to comment on what was discussed.

Pence also met with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for roughly 45 minutes, and McConnell showed Pence the vice president’s ceremonial office off the Senate chamber. A McConnell spokesman said after the meeting, “They’re ready to hit the ground running.” 

John T. Bennett, Rema Rahman and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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