House Narrowly Passes Rule to Begin Debate on Omnibus

Some Freedom Caucus members join Democrats in voting against it

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and former chairman Jim Jordan are leading their group's charge against the omnibus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and former chairman Jim Jordan are leading their group's charge against the omnibus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 22, 2018 at 10:56am

The House on Thursday narrowly passed a rule to begin debate on the $1.3 trillion fiscal 2018 omnibus appropriations bill, a more-than-2200 page measure GOP leaders had released just the previous night.

Several members of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus joined Democrats in voting against the rule, which set up a single hour of debate and blocked amendments to the bill. The final tally was 211-207. 

The Freedom Caucus took an official position Wednesday night against the omnibus, citing its price tag and policies that run against what Republicans campaigned on.

“This bill barely provides for border security, yet continues to allow federal dollars to flow to sanctuary cities,” the group said in its statement of opposition. “It includes the ‘Fix NICS’ proposal, without including reciprocity for Americans with concealed carry licenses — something congressional leadership promised would not happen. It also fully funds grants that go to Planned Parenthood while making no changes to reduce Obamacare’s burdensome regulations on America’s families.”

The position, which requires support from 80 percent of the group’s 36 members, binds the Freedom Caucus to vote en bloc against the bill (although members get some exceptions) but not the rule.

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The conservatives who voted against the rule did so primarily over process concerns, which they had also cited in their opposition statement. 

“Leadership is forcing a vote on this 2,232-page bill in under 36 hours, far from an adequate amount of time to read and analyze it,” the group said. “This is an insult to America’s taxpayers, as well as their many rank-and-file representatives who had no say in the omnibus negotiations.”

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, one of the group’s leaders, called the process “ridiculous” — a sentiment echoed by lawmakers across both parties

House Democrats’ primary reason for voting against the rule was their frustration that they have yet to secure a commitment from GOP leaders for a vote on a bill to protect so-called Dreamers, young immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children. The Trump administration wants to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shelters some 700,000 Dreamers from deportation, but federal courts have blocked his related executive order.

“The Republicans rejected our repeated demands to protect the Dreamers, presenting an inadequate patch tied to billions more for the Wall and for interior enforcement,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a “Dear Colleague” letter to House Democrats on the omnibus. “While some may differ, many Dreamers and their supporters made it clear that they did not want to accept a patch of less value tied to intensified interior enforcement.”

Pelosi urged Democrats to vote against the rule because Speaker Paul D. Ryan continues to reject their request for a vote on the so-called DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers. 

“We will continue our intensity to get that vote on its own or as part of a Queen of the Hill,” she said, referring to a rule that would set up votes on multiple measures with the one gathering the most votes above the required simple majority threshold prevailing. 

Pelosi did not urge her colleagues to vote a specific way on the actual bill, saying only, “Each of us must now assess the omnibus and weigh its equities.”

Meanwhile, senior administration officials said President Donald Trump will sign the omnibus spending bill if it passes the House and Senate, knocking down the notion that the president thought he would get all his demands.

“It funds his priorities,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Thursday at a hastily arranged White House briefing. He said the measure includes some — but not all — of what Trump wanted on immigration.

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.