Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that he is in talks with the White House and Senate Democrats about breaking a partisan deadlock over funding to combat the Zika virus and a bipartisan accord to continue funding the government past a Sept. 30 shutdown deadline.
McConnell said he is prepared to move a stopgap funding measure, known as a continuing resolution (CR), that would keep the government open through Dec. 9 as soon as next week.
“We’re looking for a way forward, and I’m hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be able to do that,” McConnell said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said of Republicans he is “hopeful they understand the predicament they’ve created.”
“They can’t close the government again,” he said. “We’re going to be totally reasonable.”
The December date is in line with the wishes of Democrats and GOP appropriators who are hoping to pass the annual spending bills before a new Congress arrives next year. But it goes against the wishes of conservative Republicans who want the next Congress to write those spending bills, arguing that producing a funding measure during a “lame-duck” session will lead to a package with higher spending and provisions sought by special interests.
On Wednesday, McConnell made clear he the current focus of his negotiations is with the White House and Senate Democrats, not Republican leaders in the House, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
“The speaker is talking to his members I believe later in the week about how to go forward,” McConnell said. “We are, as you know, two separate bodies, but we’re talking to each other. But we think the Senate ought to be able to resolve the issues that confront us, and go forward. And we hope to do that very soon.”
How House Republican leaders will handle internal disagreements over the length of the stopgap spending bill remains unclear, but conservatives are not happy with the Senate plan.
“I think Leader McConnell is going in the wrong direction,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas). “I don’t see it passing the House.”
House Republican moderates and members of the Appropriations Committee are advocating for wrapping up the annual budget work during a post-election session.
“It is the responsibility of this president and this Congress to write the budget for [fiscal year 2017],” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Labor and Health and Human Services departments. “They don’t need to do our job because we couldn’t get it done with the largest Republican majority in 88 years.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that a straight CR into next year would prevent Republicans from enacting policy provisions, such as limiting refugee resettlement or managing the use of unspent war funds, that give Congress oversight over how federal dollars are spent.
“I’m not willing at this time to throw up the white flag,” Rogers said.
House Republicans plan to meet Friday morning to discuss options for a spending agreement.
Some conservatives have floated the possibility supporting a short-term CR in exchange for policy concessions. Ideas currently under consideration are attaching legislation that would effectively halt the the resettlement of refugees from Iraq and Syria in the United States and a floor vote on impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, a top priority for the roughly 40-member House Freedom Caucus, a group of the House’s most conservative members.
“Some of us have said if we’re going to do a short-term, can we address the Syrian refugee issue,” said Freedom Caucus member Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). “If that were something that could be guaranteed on a short-term CR I think you’d see a majority of Freedom Caucus members and conservatives supporting a shorter term strategy.”
But not all members were on board with the idea. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said he could envision some policy horsetrading over elements of a spending bill, just not the length of the full CR.
“I think there is a fairly absolute focus on a long-term CR,” Sanford said.
One wrinkle in the House debate is the growing concern among conservatives that the leadership is not embracing their principles, which is making them less hospitable to any spending deals. They have gone so far as to accuse establishment leaders of meddling in a primary contest that resulted in a loss for one of their members, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.).
“It’s pretty clear that the establishment wanted to take me out,” Huelskamp said on Wednesday. “At the end of the day the message they wanted to say is ‘sit down and shut up,’ and I think it has just infuriated folks up here as well as folks in the conservative movement across America.”