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House Leaders Show Wide Gap in Year-End Priorities

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, left, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, showed the two parties have a wide gap in their priorities for the end-of-year spending debate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, left, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, showed the two parties have a wide gap in their priorities for the end-of-year spending debate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The wide gap between Republicans and Democrats on year-end priorities was on full display Thursday as Speaker Paul D. Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held their weekly press conferences.

Pelosi said Democrats will not support the two-week continuing resolution that the House is voting on Thursday afternoon because it doesn’t address “urgent needs,” while Ryan wouldn’t say explicitly that Republicans have enough votes to pass it on their own.

“I feel good where we are,” the speaker said. “I’ll let the whip comment on whip checks.”

The continuing resolution, which would extend current funding through Dec. 22, is expected to pass. And some Democrats will likely vote for it after Republicans show they have the votes on their own.

Ryan and Pelosi will head to the White House this afternoon to meet with President Donald Trump and their Senate counterparts, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, to discuss what comes after the stopgap.

Spoiler alert: It won’t be an omnibus spending bill.

It’s too late to pass an omnibus before the end of the year, Ryan said, noting, “The appropriators literally could not write one.”

Topline spending levels

Nonetheless, the leaders are expected to discuss topline spending levels. Democrats are still seeking equal increases in the sequestration budget caps for defense and non-defense discretionary programs.

“As we raise the caps we are calling for parity,” Pelosi added. “We need resources for national defense but we also need a strong domestic budget.”

A GOP offer to increase defense spending by $54 billion and domestic spending by $37 billion is not parity, the California Democrat said.

Ryan, meanwhile, suggested those conversations weren’t even taking place — a reference to Democrats’ decision to skip a scheduled meeting with the president and GOP leaders last week after Trump tweeted he didn’t see a deal.

“We haven’t had conversations about how to move with a caps agreement, so we just want to get these conversations started back up,” he said.

The speaker declined to comment on the question of parity, saying he would not negotiate through the media.

Other priorities

Democrats have other priorities beyond a matching increase in defense and non-defense spending.

Pelosi said she’s hopeful the president will be open to an agreement to address “urgent needs:” fighting the opioid epidemic; funding for veterans, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers; the Dream Act measure to provide young undocumented immigrations an opportunity to obtain legal status; emergency disaster funding, and “saving some endangered pensions, to name a few.”

She also expects Trump to have some requests of his own.

“I assume since he invited us he will have an offer to make,” Pelosi said.

The minority leader rebuffed Trump’s assertion Wednesday that a government shutdown “could happen” because of Democrats.

“Democrats have never supported shutting down government, and we don’t do so now,” she said.

Still, Pelosi said she’s not backing off her previous commitment to ensuring legislation to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals program the Trump administration is ending is passed before Congress adjourns for Christmas.

“I stand by that statement,” she. “We will not leave here without a DACA fix.”

Republican strategy

Rank-and-file House Republicans have been coalescing around a year-end spending strategy to fully fund defense programs through the end of the fiscal year above sequestration caps and keep agencies funded at current levels through late January under a continuing resolution.

Pelosi called the idea a nonstarter, while Ryan declined to take a public position, saying he likes to keep such conversations “within the family.”

The speaker has been involved in several meetings over the past few days with conservatives from the House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee on the strategy.

“I try to open up the playbook to our members,” Ryan said when asked about the idea, saying his job is to listen to them and come up with a play he thinks will work.

Whether this particular play will work, the speaker didn’t say. But he did note the basis of the discussions is about how House Republicans can advance their priorities, which includes funding the military.

“In the house we’re very frustrated,” he said, describing their effort this fall to pass all 12 appropriations bills through an omnibus measure and the Senate’s inaction on appropriations bills.

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