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Freedom Caucus Seeks to Delink Tax and Spending Negotiations

Members threatened to sink motion to go to conference on tax overhaul

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows says there’s growing consensus for a longer stopgap funding bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows says there’s growing consensus for a longer stopgap funding bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Freedom Caucus on Monday threatened to sink a motion to go to conference on the tax overhaul — a procedural move they had been pushing for — in an attempt to negotiate a longer stopgap funding bill to delink upcoming tax and spending deadlines.

But in the end, all but one member of the 36-member hard-line conservative caucus voted for the motion to go to conference after Chairman Mark Meadows had a conversation off the floor with Speaker Paul D. Ryan, and other caucus members huddled on the floor with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash was the only caucus member to vote against the motion, which was agreed to, 222-192.

The Freedom Caucus wants leadership to reconsider a two-week continuing resolution that the House is expected to vote on Wednesday and to push the stopgap funding date to Dec. 30, an option the GOP conference discussed during a closed-door meeting Friday.

“I don’t want to make any personal comments on my conversation with the speaker, but obviously, we had a long conversation as it relates to the CR and how important it is that we separate that from the tax reform debate,” Meadows said.

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The North Carolina Republican said he talked to President Donald Trump both before and after the vote but declined to characterize the conversations other than to say they discussed the tax overhaul effort.

“We think that there is a growing consensus that Dec. 30 would work, and so we’re certainly encouraging our leadership to look that way,” the North Carolina Republican added. “I’m not saying there’s any commitment to do anything. I’m just saying there’s a commitment to talk further at this point. And I felt very good about the dialogue that I had with the speaker.”

Leadership listening

McCarthy confirmed that leadership is willing to talk further about a possible date change on the CR during Tuesday’s weekly GOP conference meeting but he said that conversation was already likely to take place.

“We discussed it last week,” the California Republican said of the Dec. 30 proposal. “We said we’d leave it up to conference. We’re having a conference tomorrow and the conference can decide. I said I have no problem between the 22nd and 30th of when people wanted it. It’s only a week difference.”

Asked if leadership will amend the CR before it gets to the floor should the conference decide on the Dec. 30 date, McCarthy said, “If that’s what the conference wants, it’s not a problem. It’s not a big difference.”

The majority leader said he has no commitment from Democrats to help pass the CR.

“No, the Democrats want a shutdown,” he said. “I think that it’s odd that the Democrats want to shut the government down. That’s an odd time of year for them to want to do it.”

Democrats have not publicly stated how they plan to vote on the two-week CR released by the House Appropriations Committee.

Meadows said he thinks there’s a “better chance” that the House’s CR date ends up as Dec. 30 instead of Dec. 22.

More time

The extra week would provide more time for leaders to reach a deal on breaching the current spending caps and to decide how to deal with military needs on the next spending measure, while also providing enough time for Congress to pass a final tax overhaul, Meadows said. He noted there’s “a lot more pressure” on members trying to get home for Christmas celebrations than for New Year’s Eve.

Freedom Caucus members had huddled privately to discuss the tax and spending matters before the vote on the motion to go to conference. As they emerged, some said they discussed voting against the motion because of concerns about tax and CR negotiations getting tied together.

“We’re going to pass the tax bill at the same time the CR gets passed,” Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry said of a second CR that is expected to be needed to keep government funded beyond Dec. 22. “And what are senators going to negotiate for on the tax bill?”

A Roll Call reporter responded by suggesting a bipartisan Senate proposal to fund the cost-sharing reduction subsidies for the health insurance exchanges.

“All kinds of things. It ain’t going to stop at just CSRs. Every senator is going to have an ask,” Perry said. “There’s no reason that these should happen at the same time.”

Meadows also referenced concerns about things that might be attached to the Dec. 22 CR but he didn’t get into specifics.

Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins has said her vote in support of the tax overhaul is conditional on passage of two bipartisan proposals. One from Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray of Washington would fund the CSR payments. A separate proposal authored by Collins and Florida Democrat Bill Nelson would provide $10 billion over two years to states to establish high-risk pools or reinsurance programs.

When asked Monday if the House would consider passing the Alexander-Murray measure if that’s what it takes to pass the tax overhaul, McCarthy remained silent as he walked into his office.

RSC concerns

The Freedom Caucus is not the only group opposed to the two-week CR. The Republican Study Committee has also raised concerns about it, but RSC Chairman Mark Walker did not support the Freedom Caucus’s procedural threat Monday.

“We’re having problems with a two-week CR vote, but trying to take out going to conference on tax reform, I don’t think that’s the best route,” Walker said, adding, “I see that as a bad play.”

The North Carolina Republican said he doesn’t believe the whip count came back positive on the Dec. 22 CR and thus was never a given.

“There’s some things being discussed, worked on,” Walker said, noting that defense and fiscal hawks have been in talks about what they could both support.

Unrelated to the Freedom Caucus’s discussion with leadership, which was still taking place Monday as the congressman was speaking with reporters, Walker said he believed it’s possible the CR could be amended before going to the floor and that a Dec. 30 deadline was still in play.

“I know [Georgia GOP Rep.] Tom Graves is working hard on that, but there’s a lot of us that just struggle with a two-week,” Walker said. “Putting it there, it creates a lot of problems.”

The RSC Steering Committee is working on an official position on spending issues that would be supportive of a CR through Dec. 30 and peeling out Defense appropriations, Walker said.

The idea being discussed is a separate Defense appropriations measure lasting through Sept. 30, the remainder of the fiscal year,  that includes language to bust the defense caps but not the nondefense discretionary caps, he added.

The RSC is also planning to offer $1 trillion in mandatory spending cuts to rebuff concerns about the tax bill adding that much to the deficit, Walker said.

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