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GOP Leaders Weighing Mid-February Stopgap, With Sweeteners

CHIP fix could grease bipartisan skids

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., is not thrilled about the prospect of another short-term stopgap spending measure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., is not thrilled about the prospect of another short-term stopgap spending measure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

GOP leaders are working on a stopgap continuing resolution that would continue current spending levels into mid-February and include a health care package that would reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, fund community health centers and extend various Medicare provisions, people with knowledge of the process say.

Some elements of the proposal are still being worked out, and it is unclear what the final package will look like. But the aim is to draw bipartisan support on the floor of both chambers next week, averting a partial government shutdown after midnight next Friday, Jan. 19, when the current stopgap expires.

Feb. 16 appears to be the most likely end date for the stopgap, sources familiar with the discussions said. That would set up the next deadline the Friday before the weeklong Presidents Day recess.

The plan could give GOP and Democratic leaders enough time before the next stopgap expires to finalize a budget deal that would raise discretionary spending caps imposed by the 2011 deficit reduction law and include other Republican and Democratic priorities.

Watch: Schumer, McConnell at Crossroads on DACA

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It would also give appropriators another month to write a fiscal 2018 omnibus package that conforms to the new spending levels, possibly without having to resort to another continuing resolution. An omnibus, if it is ready in February, also would be a likely vehicle for a debt limit suspension ahead of the expected exhaustion of extraordinary measures as early as March. It could also carry other legislation that did not make the cut in next week’s short-term stopgap.

Democratic aides, speaking on background, pushed back against the idea, saying Democrats might oppose the plan if there is not at least an informal agreement on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a two-year plan to raise the discretionary caps and other legislation Democrats are seeking in advance of next Friday’s deadline.

One Democratic aide said while it may be impossible to produce a written budget agreement by Jan. 19, leaders could reach an agreement in principle by that time, paving the way for passage of the stopgap. Another person with knowledge of GOP discussions said there is still an expectation that a spending caps deal will be unveiled after the next continuing resolution is passed.

Greasing the skids

But a deal on including a long-term CHIP fix, among other Democratic priorities, could go a long way toward greasing the bipartisan skids for another temporary spending bill, Republicans are calculating.

One person familiar with the planning said the logjam on CHIP was broken when the Congressional Budget Office revised its estimate of the cost of the program, finding that it was less costly than previously projected. On Tuesday, CBO told lawmakers that reauthorizing the program for a decade or more would actually save money, as much as $6 billion over 10 years, as fewer children are covered on the more costly private insurance exchanges set up under the 2010 health care law.

At the same time, cost-sharing subsidies intended to lower premium costs for coverage on the exchanges are unlikely to be included in the next stopgap plan, according to one source, which could give some lawmakers pause. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, for instance, had conditioned her tax overhaul vote in part on measures to help stabilize the insurance markets, including cost-sharing subsidies. She said she won a commitment to advance those measures on the next must-pass spending bill in 2018.

At the same time, defense hawks on the Republican side have made noises about opposing any more short-term spending bills, particularly if they don’t yet have assurances on hefty defense increases they are seeking.

And hard-line conservatives in the House are once again threatening defections on the floor vote, which would give Democrats even more leverage on the short-term spending bill.

“We feel like we have given votes for several CRs at this point,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said Tuesday.

“Our original position was that if we were going to do a CR, do one long CR and come back and do an appropriations process with that deadline. In hindsight that looks like that would have been the more prudent way to have addressed this,” the North Carolina Republican continued. “I don’t know that there’s the votes there today for a CR, but we are in discussions on what that might look like.”

In his weekly briefing with reporters Wednesday, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland said he couldn’t comment on the next stopgap because he had no information about it, even with time running short. “It’s amazing that we’re five days from that CR expiring and I can’t tell you what would be in the CR or whether or not we’re going to have” an agreement on spending caps, Hoyer said.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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