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Freedom Caucus Open to Linking Spending Deal to Health Care

Senate insurance market stabilization measure could be part of calculus now

From left, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, leave a meeting in the Speaker’s office in the Capitol on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
From left, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, leave a meeting in the Speaker’s office in the Capitol on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As House Republicans continue to strategize about how to fund a defense spending increase by Christmas, a key conservative said Wednesday he’d be open to a bipartisan Senate proposal to fund the cost sharing reduction subsidies for the health insurance exchanges if that’s what it would take to get Senate Democrats on board.

“If Alexander-Murray would break the defense and non-defense wall, that may be a price that many would be willing to pay,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said, even as he noted that has not been a part of the discussions so far.

The North Carolina Republican was referring to the health insurance stabilization proposal introduced by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and ranking member Patty Murray of Washington. President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have already agreed to pass that measure in order to secure Maine Sen. Susan Collins’s vote for the tax overhaul, Collins has said.

Most House Republicans, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., have panned the proposal, saying it props up the 2010 health care law that they want to repeal. However, leadership and others have been more mum about the plan since the Senate has decided to use it as negotiating tool on the tax overhaul.

Meadow’s acknowledgement that Alexander-Murray could be used to negotiate a spending deal is significant because Republicans’ current strategy does not include anything that is expected to draw Democratic support.

The plan they’ve been discussing is passing a spending bill by Dec. 22 — after an expected two-week continuing resolution — that would fully fund defense programs through the end of the fiscal year and use another continuing resolution to keep the remaining agencies open until an omnibus measure can be drafted.

Conservatives have been opposed to the Dec. 22 CR but would be open to supporting it “if we can get this plan where we fully fund defense and hold the line on the non-defense spending,” Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan of Ohio said.

While no official decisions have been made about any part of this strategy, Jordan notes they prefer to bust the sequestration spending cap for defense but not for non-defense discretionary spending.

Meadows said the Freedom Caucus has taken no official position on the Dec. 22 CR but their votes are “contingent upon having a strategy that all our guys feel like is a workable, at least plausible strategy.” He was referring to the strategy on what would come after the Dec. 22 CR.

House Republican leadership believes the aforementioned strategy is workable, Meadows said after he and Jordan met with Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Wednesday. The Freedom Caucus met earlier that morning.

“We’ve had good productive conversations,” he said. “Nothing is decided yet.”

While House Republicans are trying to get a measure that can pass their chamber with only Republican votes, Meadows said, he acknowledged the need to get some Senate Democrats on board to pass anything. He said they’ve discussed attaching the disaster aid supplemental and funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program as things that might help accomplish that goal.

Asked if they would want a guarantee from McConnell that he’d take up whatever measure House Republicans agree to, Meadows said, “I don’t know that we can extract that. That would be very good if we had a promise from McConnell. But we are having discussions with some of our Senate colleagues.”

The process could be complicated a bit by Trump’s own comments today. 

Trump told reporters Wednesday a government shutdown “could happen” because of Democrats’ position on immigration.

“The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous for our country,” he said. “They are looking at shutting down. They want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases people that we don’t want in our country — they want to have illegal immigrants pouring
into our country, bring with them crime, tremendous amounts of drugs. We don’t want to have that.”

Democrats have actually not made any demands related to illegal immigrants pouring into the country, but rather are seeking a deal on so called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants already in the country that were brought here as children. Trump decided to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals program that has provided Dreamers with work permits that shelter them from deportation.

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