Republicans Huddle to Avoid Latest Shutdown Threat

House conference, Freedom Caucus to meet Monday evening

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and his Freedom Caucus mates will meet Monday night after the full GOP conference meets to discuss heading off another government shutdown. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and his Freedom Caucus mates will meet Monday night after the full GOP conference meets to discuss heading off another government shutdown. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 5, 2018 at 11:36am

House Republicans will meet at 7 p.m. Monday to discuss the latest stopgap spending bill that will be needed to avert another partial government, according to GOP aides.

The latest continuing resolution is in place through Thursday night, giving congressional leaders little time to navigate a thicket of difficulties in both chambers.

GOP leaders are banking that blowback from last month’s brief shutdown will carry the latest stopgap over the goal line with a minimum of fuss. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Thursday at the GOP policy retreat in West Virginia that Democrats have learned “there’s no education in the second kick of a mule” after the three-day shutdown starting early Jan. 20 and lasting through most of Jan. 22.

PODCAST: Another Stopgap Coming as Congress Readies to Spend, Spend, Spend

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., still has some work to do to paper over differences within the GOP conference on the CR, however, which is intended to give congressional leaders and the White House more time to negotiate spending levels and for the Appropriations committees to put together a 12-bill omnibus.

House Democrats have mostly voted against the recent CRs, and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said last week conservatives would have difficulty voting for a fifth stopgap. The Freedom Caucus is planning to meet later Monday evening after the full conference discusses CR strategy.

GOP leaders are eyeing sweeteners for both sides of the aisle, however, including money to alleviate a shortfall at community health centers serving about 27 million mostly low-income patients. On Friday, a group of 105 House Republicans wrote to Ryan urging him to include funding for the program, which lapsed in October, in the next “must-pass” bill.

The letter, spearheaded by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., cites Department of Health and Human Services estimates that about 2,800 health center facilities could close without new funding for the program — which costs about $3.6 billion a year — jeopardizing 50,000 jobs and access to services for about 9 million patients. Stefanik is joining Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., for a press conference Tuesday to tout bipartisan support for continued health center funding.

Debt Ceiling, Other Riders Eyed

In addition, congressional action on the debt limit is needed by March or the government will be unable to meet all of its obligations on time. The White House has asked congressional leaders to attach a debt limit “suspension,” similar to one attached to the fiscal year’s first CR last September, but it was unclear as of Monday morning whether it would be included.

On that September vote in the House, 90 Republicans voted against the CR-debt limit combination, which also included the first installment of disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. That prospect means substantial Democratic votes could again be necessary, which is not a given; 45 Democrats voted for the most recent CR on final passage, which would not be enough to backfill a large number of GOP defections.

The White House is also asking Congress to include additional disaster aid in the CR, since an $81 billion package stalled in the Senate after passing the House in December. The administration also wants to see $90 million added for the Internal Revenue Service, which is struggling to update its computer systems to administer the massive new tax law taking effect this year. GOP leaders will also be under pressure to add funding flexibility for the military, including to help contractors stay on schedule for certain shipbuilding deliveries.

This latest CR will also give lawmakers time to work out a solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, which expires March 5. Democrats have been insistent they will not agree to spending levels without a “global agreement” that includes a bipartisan solution for the roughly 700,000 people brought to the country illegally as children, who could face mass deportation if agreement is not reached.

While no bipartisan deal seems likely to materialize this week, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., unveiled a joint effort on Monday that mirrors a bipartisan House bill  introduced last month.

The measure would grant eight-year renewable legal status for “Dreamers,” which could become permanent if certain conditions are met. It would also require the Department of Homeland Security to deploy “the most practical and effective technology available” to secure the Southern border by the start of the next presidential term on Jan. 20, 2021, although it does not appropriate any funds and does not specifically indicate that a wall would be built.

More a talking point than anything else at this point, McCain nevertheless said Monday one big reason for trying to kickstart an immigration deal is the impact the budget stalemate is having on the Pentagon. “It’s time we end the gridlock so we can quickly move on to completing a long-term budget agreement that provides our men and women in uniform the support they deserve,” McCain said.

Lindsey McPherson and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this story.