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Uncertainty Surrounds Avoiding Shutdown Showdown

House GOP wants to vote on stopgap funding in two steps

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., right, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., are whipping votes on their approach to government funding. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., right, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., are whipping votes on their approach to government funding. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republican leaders are pursuing a two-step strategy to avoiding a government shutdown, but might have difficulty rounding up votes in the caucus for that approach.

Leaders want to vote on stopgap funding in two steps — one continuing resolution keeping government agencies operating through Dec. 22, and then another probably running into January, Rep. Charlie Dent said Friday.

“We obviously have to pass a CR. It looks like they are going to do it in two steps,” said Dent, R-Pa., a senior House appropriator, as he went into a GOP conference meeting to discuss fiscal 2018 spending.

Current stopgap funding expires Dec. 8, and congressional leaders are no closer to agreement on funding levels for the 12 fiscal 2018 appropriations bills let alone the hard slog of actually drafting an omnibus package. With little time remaining before the winter holidays, reality is setting in that at least one more CR will be necessary to buy more time.

Ryan on Thursday: House Will Pass Short-Term CR, Shutdown Up to Senate Democrats

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However, House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said he would not be surprised if there was a negative whip count on the two-week CR at the moment, as a number of conservative members are unhappy with the idea. Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker says there is a 60 to 70 percent chance that the RSC takes an official position on the CR through Dec. 22 before the House vote next week.

“If we do take a position, it would be against,” said Walker, R-N.C. Members of the RSC and the House Freedom Caucus, which represents 30 to 40 of the most conservative House Republicans, argue a two-week CR will likely end up with a massive catchall bill containing higher spending and probably Democratic-backed policy riders.

“I am a hard no on any CR ending the week of Christmas. That tells me that they have an absolutely horrible bill that they want to try to jam through. That’s the only reason to have a CR end on December 22,” Freedom Caucus member Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., said.

Another reason for the Dec. 22 end-date, at least initially, is because military hawks on the Armed Services panel and elsewhere in the conference are opposed to extending defense funds into 2018 at current levels. Pentagon officials have warned a longer CR could impact military readiness, and even some conservatives are angling to split off the Defense appropriations bill and pass it separately.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he will vote no on the two-week CR. “This is the same old pattern. For six years Democrats wait until the end of the calendar year, demand certain spending,” he said. “What are we doing to break the pattern? So I would prefer that we put the defense bill — full funding for defense for the whole year — and then CR until some time in January.”

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., says conservatives “would be much more inclined to have a five-week CR” than the two-week CR heading to the House floor next week. But Brat, a Freedom Caucus member, did not say definitively that he would vote against the bill. “I’m not in love with it,” he said.

House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black, R-Tenn., said her preference was to wrap up appropriations business for the year by Dec. 22 rather than punt into 2018. But passing a CR was better than not passing one, she indicated.

“I think we need to continue to keep the government operating and if that’s our choice then that’s what I’m going to vote for,” Black said.

If enough conservative members decide to withhold support for the two-week stopgap, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., would have to rely on Democrats to get over the 218-vote threshold for House passage. That would probably require buy-in from Senate Democrats as well, since their votes are clearly necessary to send a CR to President Donald Trump’s desk given the 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster in that chamber.

Neither Senate Democrats nor Republicans are yet weighing in the Dec. 22 plan. But one thing is starting to appear certain: if enough House GOP conservatives vote ‘no’, the next CR is more likely to carry Democratic priorities than if they supported a “clean” version running for two weeks.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this story.

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