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House Conservatives Mixed Emotions Over White House Confab

Hints but no guarantees from leadership spark split feelings

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Leaders of the two conservative House caucuses are both hopeful and worried about what’s happening Thursday afternoon at the White House.

They hope Speaker Paul D. Ryan is advocating for a Republican-crafted spending strategy during a meeting with President Donald Trump and other congressional leaders. But they worry that negotiations over topline spending numbers could undermine their position.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker, both North Carolina Republicans, have been negotiating details of the spending bill that would follow a Dec. 22 stopgap with GOP leaders.

They’ve discussed a measure that would fully fund defense programs through the end of the fiscal year above sequestration caps and keep other agencies funded at current levels through late January under a continuing resolution. Attachments they hope may draw Democratic support in the Senate, like the disaster aid supplemental and funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, are also part of the strategy.

“If they don’t take that strategy into the White House meeting then they’re sharing one thing with the White House and another with the Republican members of their conference,” Meadows said. “But I do believe most of the negotiations today at the White House will be about increasing the caps on both defense and nondefense from what I understand.”

Walker said he takes Ryan at his word that he’s working on rank-and-file Republicans’ behalf.

“He told us that’s where he’s going to be advocating for us,” he said. “He didn’t say, ‘I’m going to the president’s White House,’ but he just said, ‘As the speaker, I’ll advocate for this.’”

Ryan, however, declined to publicly state his position on the idea at a press conference Thursday but said he was opening up the playbook to his members and listening to their ideas in coming up with a strategy that will work.

Not listening to conservatives’ idea to do a CR through Dec. 30 rather than Dec. 22 almost led to the Freedom Caucus defeating a motion to go to conference on the tax overhaul Monday. Ultimately they decided to support the motion after GOP leaders agreed to continue talks on a conservative funding strategy for the Dec. 22 deadline.

Those talks led to the idea of defense-CR combination spending bill. With the understanding of leadership’s support, some the Freedom Caucus members and the majority of RSC members are planning to back the Dec. 22 funding measure when it comes to the floor for a vote Thursday afternoon.

However, Freedom Caucus members who are supporting the CR did not get any ironclad commitments in exchange for their votes, Meadows said.

“There were strong commitments made in conference that a number of us are questioning how rock solid those commitments are,” he said. “But there were a number of commitments made in conference about fighting the fight on funding DOD for a year and breaking the firewall. I don’t know if it would be intellectually honest to suggest that there’s a high degree of confidence that that will happen.”

Indeed, Meadows said his own level of confidence has dropped from a two or three Wednesday to a 1.5 Thursday on a 10-point scale with 10 being the most optimistic.

Why? Because leadership appears to be negotiating on an increase in nondefense spending that is higher than conservatives are likely to accept.

“We’ve been on record to say we’ll be reasonable with some type of increase in spending for nondefense programs,” Meadows said. “That being said the numbers being discussed are much higher than any of us could imagine.”

Walker said negotiating on higher nondefense spending is not a deal breaker but said there are need to be some limits.

“I don’t think it’s a game changer as long as there are some parameters set up there,” he said. It would be a big problem if GOP leaders “sold out” on Democrats’ push for domestic spending increases to equal those of defense, he said.

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