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House Democrats’ latest gambit for ending shutdown involves bills Republicans negotiated

Plan is to bring up spending bills next week that both chambers agreed to in conference last year

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., have been bringing various spending bills to the floor to pressure Republicans to reopen the government. They plan to hold votes next week on bills House Republicans previously helped negotiate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., have been bringing various spending bills to the floor to pressure Republicans to reopen the government. They plan to hold votes next week on bills House Republicans previously helped negotiate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Democrats plan to ramp up the pressure on Republicans to reopen the government by holding votes next week on spending bills the GOP helped negotiate. 

The plan is to hold a vote on a package of six fiscal 2019 appropriations bills that were agreed to by House and Senate negotiators last year but never brought to the floor. 

The package also includes language to pay federal employees who have been working without pay or who have been furloughed during the partial government shutdown. 

“Democrats will keep the House of Representatives open next week to continue voting to reopen government,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said in a statement.

The Maryland Democrat added that the six bills in the spending package “represent the compromise position negotiated by Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, which is what some House Republicans have said they would prefer to support instead of the Senate-passed bills.”

Also watch: ‘I’m not sure what’s going on, but I object’ — Confusion on House floor Thursday during attempted shutdown-ending vote

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Last year, the Republican-led House and Senate passed a majority of the 12 individual appropriations bills and entered formal conference negotiations to work out the differences between the different versions of the measures. 

Congress passed five of those conferenced bills, and President Donald Trump signed them into law. 

An additional four bills — Financial Services, Transportation-HUD, Agriculture, and Interior-Environment — were also sent into formal bicameral conference talks. The negotiators reached agreement on the measures, but they were never brought to the floor amid an unrelated but entangled disagreement over border wall funding that was never resolved and led to the ongoing partial government shutdown.

Three of the 12 annual appropriations bills never made it the House and Senate floors last year or to conference — the Homeland Security measure, in which any border wall money agreed to would be appropriated, and the State-Foreign Operations and Commerce-Justice-Science bills. 

But House and Senate appropriators met informally to work out the differences between those three bills and had reached agreement on the State-Foreign Operations and Commerce-Justice-Science measures. 

The negotiated versions of the aforementioned bills — with exception of Homeland Security on which agreement was not reached — are part of the six-bill package that Democrats plan to bring to the floor next week. Voting on them will pressure House Republicans, especially appropriators and leaders who helped negotiate the measures with their Senate counterparts.

The new House Democratic majority has yet to bring any of those three spending bills as a standalone measure.

Democrats have passed a continuing resolution for Homeland Security lasting through Feb. 8, with support from five Republicans. That vote was coupled with one that packaged the Senate versions of the other six bills that have yet to be signed into law for fiscal 2019. Seven Republicans supported that measure.

Democrats have also individually passed the Senate versions of the Financial Services, Transportation-HUD, Agriculture, and Interior-Environment bills, which drew a varying degree of support from Republicans but no higher than 12 minority-party votes.

This week, only six Republicans voted for a continuing resolution to open all shuttered departments through Feb. 1. The measure failed, 237-187, because it was brought to the floor under a fast track process known as suspension of the rules and needed two-thirds support  to pass.

Democrats brought a different CR, one lasting through Feb. 28, to the floor Thursday under a rule and passed it by voice vote. Republicans had meant to ask for a roll call vote to record their objections, but there was some confusion over whether that actually happened. That led to a heated floor debate over procedure. Ultimately, Democrats agreed to hold a new vote on the CR on Wednesday and record the roll. 

After that CR vote, the conferenced bills will be next up as Democrats try to keep pressure on the Republicans. 

“We have canceled our district work period next week to stay here to work on legislation to open up government, to continue our ongoing drumbeat of bills to open up government,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday. 

It’s unclear if Republicans who were personally involved in negotiating the conferenced bills that will be brought to the floor next week will feel compelled to vote for them. But Minority Whip Steve Scalise was dismissive of the Democrats’ latest floor gambit. 

“I’m worried about the fact that Democrats aren’t willing to reopen the government in a way that secures the border,” the Louisiana Republican said when asked if he was concerned about additional GOP defections on the conferenced spending bills. 

“We’ve had votes on the House floor for days now, none of which the Democrats brought forward that can get signed into law,” Scalise added. “This is a divided government and they know that. … They’ve got to work with the president who wants to secure the border.”

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