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House GOP Disgruntled Over Path on Spending Bill

Divisions over latest plan to break omnibus into chunks

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., thinks Republicans will end up where they usually do: with a continuing resolution for the appropriations process until they can strike a deal after the start of the fiscal year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., thinks Republicans will end up where they usually do: with a continuing resolution for the appropriations process until they can strike a deal after the start of the fiscal year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Much of the congressional focus lately has been on Senate Republicans’ intraparty divisions on health care, but House Republicans are having struggles of their own on other issues. And the frustration is mounting.

The House GOP Conference faced its latest setback Wednesday after their leadership announced the previous evening that they would move a four-bill, security-related appropriations package on the floor next week instead of a measure combining all 12 appropriations bills.

This will be the first fiscal 2018 appropriations floor vote in the House.

The current fiscal year ends September 30.

The appropriations process scale-back comes on the heels of more than a month of intraparty fighting about the budget and the reconciliation process for rewriting the tax code and overhauling mandatory spending programs.

House Republicans also spent more than three months working through their differences on health care before finally passing a measure to partially repeal and replace the 2010 law with a single vote to spare.

On Wednesday, the Budget Committee marked up the fiscal 2018 budget resolution and the Appropriations Committee marked up its final two bills.

None of those measures may ever see floor action because House Republicans can’t get on the same page.

Several rank-and-file members were disappointed with leadership’s decision to move forward with a national security minibus rather than a GOP omnibus.

“There is an overwhelming frustration that this looks like this is the same pattern — that we are [on] the same spinning hamster wheel that we’ve been on for the last few years,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker said. “The opinions were very strong and very heavy in our RSC forum today.”

Asked what Republicans could do to get themselves off the hamster wheel, the North Carolina Republican said, “You just have to have enough people who say, ‘Listen, I’m not going to support the way this process is rolling out.’ That’s the only leverage you do have.”

However, Walker said he is not saying he would vote against the national security minibus.

The measure is expected to pass, but members still said they would have preferred having all of the bills packaged together to improve the House’s negotiating position in eventual talks with the Senate.

“I think if we don’t pass all 12 bills — and apparently we’re not going to pass all 12 before August recess — I believe we go in as a weaker negotiator into the Senate,” said Georgia Rep. Tom Graves, an appropriator who led the push for the House to take up a GOP priority omnibus. “And ultimately this leads to a [continuing resolution]. That’s not where I want to be.”

Graves and Walker both said they feel leadership could have done more to get the conference on board with the 12-bill strategy.

The whip count on the idea showed few members were opposed but many needed more information about what was in the bills, some of which are just being reported out of committee this week, and how the amendment process would work, Graves said.

“What I sensed today and even last night was a bit of frustration, some disappointment that we didn’t see the horsepower put behind this that we’ve seen behind other priorities of the House,” he said. “The eject button was pushed pretty quick.”

Since the Appropriations Committee is just finishing markups of the 12 bills this week, they didn’t have a chance to present their case to the full GOP conference for moving all of the bills together on the floor, Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole said.

“I actually think we pulled back prematurely from the omnibus strategy,” he said, but noted to move ahead on that the House likely would have needed to stay in early August.

The security minibus only includes the Defense, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, Energy and Water and Legislative Branch spending bills. Cole said he doesn’t know what leadership will do with other eight appropriations measures.

“We were told they [would] quote-unquote try to pass them in September,” he said. “I hope that’s true, but I think that’s hard to do. The real engines here are Defense and MilCon-VA. So you take the engines off the train, expect the cars to move on their own, maybe it can happen but it’s not as likely as I would hope.”

The prevailing sense is that most, if not all, of the eight remaining GOP appropriations bills will not see floor action.

When Roll Call asked former Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers what he expected to happen with those eight bills, the Kentucky Republican said ominously, “Next question.”

Cole and Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, another appropriator, said they expect the appropriations process will result in a continuing resolution through at least December to buy more time for negotiations.

“It’s not so much disappointing as it was predictable,” Dent said. “I always questioned this strategy of running an omnibus out of the House without an agreed-to topline spending level with the Senate.”

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